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Cameo expands beyond celebrity shout-out videos to livestreams, FaceTime calls, and, yes, NFTs

Celebrity shout-out company Cameo is expanding to become talent’s one-stop shop for connecting to fans.

Cameo expands beyond celebrity shout-out videos to livestreams, FaceTime calls, and, yes, NFTs
[Image: courtesy of Cameo]

Earlier this week, the celebrity video shout-out platform Cameo announced that it was getting into NFTs (nonfungible tokens). Starting on February 17, fans of the 50,000 athletes, musicians, and other influencers who populate the platform will be able to mint a Cameo Pass via OpenSea. The NFTs, at a current cost of about $550, will give people exclusive access to Cameo events, such as parties hosted at the company’s Beverly Hills villa; meet-and-greets; merchandise drops; and celebrity Q&As.

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“Last year we were having a lot of talent calling, saying, ‘Hey, what’s Cameo doing in the NFT space?'” says Cameo cofounder and CEO Steven Galanis. “We didn’t have a great answer for it. As we started watching what other brands were doing, the number-one thing we realized was that we had to create an authentic utility experience that was unique to Cameo, as opposed to just doing something cool.”

A digital platform creating a “cool” NFT product isn’t necessarily groundbreaking news these days. But the move is part of a much larger effort that’s underway to grow Cameo beyond what it’s most known for: a site where fans can pay to have celebrities like Sean Astin, Melora Hardin from The Office, or Brian Cox from Succession make a short, personalized video message. (The talent roster runs the gamut from A- to C-list, with a heavy bench of the latter, and prices vary accordingly. Cox, for example, charges $689 for a video.)

This clever, social-media-friendly concept, combined with an influencer economy that favors easy-lift revenue streams, has turned Cameo into an impressive business in the five years since it launched. The site’s creators have produced 4 million videos, and last year alone Cameo signed up 10,000 new stars on the platform. There are also now Spanish, French, German, and Italian versions of Cameo, and videos were sold in 183 countries last year as the company became more aggressive about international growth.

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These days growth is focused on more than just amusing video snippets, which the company dubs Cameo Messages, to send someone on their birthday. Galanis says the company is in a new mode, what he calls “Cameo 2.0,” that is all about transitioning from a “one-trick pony” to a full-service platform where celebrities can do everything from set up FaceTime calls with fans (Cameo Calls); stream a performance or stand-up show from their living room (Cameo Live); text fans (Cameo Direct); run a membership-based fan club where paying users receive exclusive content (Cameo Fan Club); and even sell merchandise. (Last fall, Cameo acquired the company Represent, which allows celebrities and brands to set up online storefronts to sell products.)

It’s also a place where brands can connect with celebs to create social-media snippets. “As we zoomed out and looked at the success we’ve had over the last five years, it became clear to us that our goal as a company should be to become talent’s CTO. Any time talent wants to find a way to engage with their fans in a direct way, we need to be their first call,” Galanis says. “And as we looked at how this ecosystem is evolving, we realized that we have this video shout-out product, which people love, but there may be some talent for whom that’s not how they want to interact. Maybe they want a subscription-revenue kind of product like a Patreon or a Substack. We should be building something like that.

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“We want to provide one unified partnership for talent that can help them go direct to fans, as opposed to them doing a lot of these things piecemeal through five to six different platforms,” he adds.

[Concept image: courtesy of Cameo]
The expansion will also potentially help Cameo overcome its retention issue: Most people who come to the site are first-timers looking for a fun, one-off video. “We think that collectively these things will give more people more reasons to come back to Cameo on a more frequent basis,” Galanis says.

Cameo has spent the last year-plus building out this new suite of products, which Galanis likens to a “tool belt” that allows Cameo to serve as a celebrity’s one-stop fan-management platform. Now he wants the world to know about it. To that end, the company has brought on a team of engineers, designers, and product folks to transform its platform, which currently is still centered on Messages. For example, Snoop Dogg’s page recently said that the rapper was “not taking any requests at this moment.” In fact, however, that’s just referring to videos. “He’s available for business booking, he can do Cameo Live, he can do Cameo Calls,” Galanis says. Soon the site will reflect this full range of options. 

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Looking back over the past five years, Galanis says the biggest—and most surprising—growth area for the company is its business-to-business offering, where brands can tap influencers to create a personalized video as part of social-media campaigns. The feature gives brands access to authentic-feeling content at a fraction of the price of, say, setting up a professionally produced video shoot at a remote location. It also allows celebrities to charge higher rates than they do for individuals and effectively make commercials from the comfort of their home.

“It’s the same way we democratized access to talent on the consumer side; we’re doing that on the business side as well,” Galanis says of the product, which grew 500% year over year in 2021. “If you think about someone like (NFL legend) Brett Favre, say he wanted to make a TV commercial for a Chevy dealership. They’d have to send a private jet to Mississippi (where he lives), fly him back, lights-camera-action, a day of filming, that’s easily six figures. Now, for his $10,000 rate, he can sit on a couch and make the same commercial from Mississippi that looks like the native content that’s displayed on Instagram Stories or Snapchat Stories or TikTok, because it’s filmed on the phone and has the right aesthetic design. And that performs better than highly produced content.” 

Recent campaigns include New Orleans Saints defensive end Cam Jordan making a commercial for Mattress Firm, and former NFL star Greg Jennings in an ad for Electronic Arts’s latest Madden NFL game.  

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Even as Cameo grows its multiple lines of business, Galanis insists that the core mission of connecting celebs with their die-hard followers remains the company’s guiding light. And there won’t be any shift away from lesser names. “We never look at it as A-list, B-list, C-list,” he says. “One of our marketing campaign’s taglines is ‘You Don’t Have to Get It to Get It.’ As an example, Kenny G is my mom’s favorite artist in the world. My mom would rather hear from Kenny G than Justin Bieber any day. That’s one of the things we really learned is that every talent is someone’s favorite person in the world. So we just look at it as, how do we help any talent, any creator, turn their passionate fans into hyper-loyal super fans?”

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About the author

Nicole LaPorte is an LA-based senior writer for Fast Company who writes about where technology and entertainment intersect. She previously was a columnist for The New York Times and a staff writer for Newsweek/The Daily Beast and Variety

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