Chicago-based Cameo now offers live video chats with celebrities

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

Starting Thursday, fans can schedule a 10-minute video call with the likes of former pro wrestler Mick Foley, Sean Astin, who played Sam the Hobbit in “Lord of the Rings,” or Dorinda Medley of “Real Housewives” fame. 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 grew out of the evolving virtual world of Pandemic.

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

Launched five years ago, Cameo broke new ground in star-fan relationships by offering personalized video messages from celebrities that have been used for birthday wishes and marriage proposals to prom invitations. Last year, Cameo introduced a two-minute virtual meet-and-greet, which has been extended to 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 personal video of actress Lindsay Lohan starts at $500. Musician Kenny G is listed at $350. Barry Williams from “The Brady Bunch” will record a video for at least $140.

The inaugural list of celebrities offering live video calls is a bit smaller, and includes rapper BoB, St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright, actress Bonnie Wright, who played Ginny in the “Harry Potter” movies, and Brooke Lynn Heights from “RuPaul’s Drag.” Race,” among others.

Like Cameo’s bread-and-butter video greetings, prices for live video calls 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 is offering video calls for $975. A live call with Wayne Knight, who played Newman on “Seinfeld,” runs $990 — three times the cost of his recorded video messages.

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

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

A Chicago tech incubator developed in 1871, Cameo was co-founded by Galanis, Devon Townsend and Martin Blencowe. The business model was inspired by a personal birthday greeting video that Blencowe recorded to send to a friend from NFL defensive end Cassius Marsh.

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

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

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

“We’re encouraging people to start going back to the office, because we think it’s always been a special part of our culture,” Galanis said. “We now have 20 to 30 people coming in some days of the week.”

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