Chicago-based Cameo now offers live video chats with celebrities

Chicago-based Cameo, which built a business out of selling recorded celebrity video greetings, is adding live video chats to its roster of offbeat actors, athletes and stars.

Starting Thursday, fans can schedule a 10-minute video call with the likes of former professional wrestler Mick Foley, Sean Astin, who played Sam the Hobbit in “Lord of the Rings,” or Dorinda Medley of ” Real Housewives”. Video calls are booked through the Cameo website or the Cameo Live app and can be shared with up to nine other participants.

Imagine a Zoom call with your Aunt Martha and former Illinois governor and convicted felon Rod Blagojevich, for starters.

Like many recent business innovations, Cameo Live emerged from the evolving virtual world of the pandemic.

“During COVID, we saw that it was very popular for Cameo celebrities to start doing Zoom calls with their fans,” said Steven Galanis, Cameo co-founder and CEO. “This would allow a fan to have something like a Zoom call, but better, for 10 of their closest friends and the talent they want to hang out with.”

Launched five years ago, Cameo broke new ground in the star-fan relationship by offering personalized video messages from celebrities that have been used for everything from birthday greetings and graduation invitations to marriage proposals. Last year, Cameo introduced a two-minute virtual meeting, which has since expanded into the equivalent of a celebrity Zoom call.

The talent roster for recorded video greetings includes thousands of celebrities including actors, athletes, comedians, musicians and social media influencers. A custom video of actress Lindsay Lohan starts at $500. Musician Kenny G comes out at $350. Barry Williams of “The Brady Bunch” will record a video for as little as $140.

The inaugural list of celebrities offering live video calls is a little smaller and includes rapper B.O.B., St. Louis Cardinals Adam Wainwright, actress Bonnie Wright, who played Ginny in the “Harry Potter” movies and Brooke Lynn Hytes of “RuPaul’s Drag.” career”, among others.

Like Cameo’s bread and butter video greetings, live video call prices will vary by celebrity. A video chat with former Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre starts at $1,200. Former New York City mayor and Donald Trump adviser Rudy Giuliani offers video calls for $975. A live call with Wayne Knight, who played Newman on “Seinfeld,” costs $990, three times the cost of his recorded video messages.

“It’s probably a little more expensive than the basic Cameo videos,” Galanis, 34, said.

Blagojevich, the former Illinois governor whose federal corruption prison sentence was commuted in 2020 by then-President Trump, is a relative bargain, with live video chats starting at $300, according to the website cameo

Developed at the Chicago Tech Incubator in 1871, Cameo was co-founded by Galanis, Devon Townsend and Martin Blencowe. The business model was inspired by a personalized birthday greeting video that Blencowe recorded from NFL defensive back Cassius Marsh to send to a friend.

Cameo, which has raised $165 million from investors to date, takes a 25% commission on each transaction. Last year, during its most recent fundraising round, Cameo reported $100 million in gross revenue by 2020, delivering 1.3 million recorded messages.

Galanis declined to disclose the private company’s current annual revenue, but said it is a “bigger business than it was two years ago.”

Last month, Cameo moved into new offices on the seventh floor of the massive Sports Authority building at 620 N. LaSalle St. in River North. The company has about 60 employees in Chicago, and Galanis wants to bring them back from remote work as Cameo launches its latest product.

“We’re encouraging people to start coming back to the office, because we thought it was always a special part of our culture,” Galanis said. “We’re getting about 20 to 30 that are starting to come in now a few days a week.”

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