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Cameo Celebrity App: Will Birthday Wishes From Snoop Dogg Mean A Big Investor Payday?

Cameo enlists stars to produce short video messages that are paid for by fans. In these videos Snoop Dogg (left) wishes happy birthday to an 18 year old, Lindsay Lohan (center) offers condolences for a postponed bachelorette party, And Lance Armstrong (right) sends greeting from Nantucket.
Cameo enlists stars to produce short video messages that are paid for by fans. In these videos Snoop Dogg (left) wishes happy birthday to an 18 year old, Lindsay Lohan (center) offers condolences for a postponed bachelorette party, And Lance Armstrong (right) sends greeting from Nantucket.

About a year ago, former Trump aide Anthony Scaramucci got a call from an executive with the celebrity video-sharing startup Cameo.

"He called me and he's like, 'Mooch, I'd like to get you on Cameo,'" Scaramucci recalled to NPR. "I didn't even know what it was. He said, 'We're trying to get some guys who are improvisational and can have a little fun with this."

With a Cameo bio of "White House Communications Director for 11 days. Don't say 10, it hurts my feelings!" Scaramucci has found a way to capitalize on his brief tenure.

"It's a fun thing to do. It's a way to stay in touch with — I don't want to say fans — but just people out there," he said.

Scaramucci, who runs a hedge fund, says he has made more than 1,100 videos to date and earned $62,700.

"I'm giving all the proceeds to charity," he emphasized.

He is one of more than 40,000 entertainers, folk heroes, Internet influencers and now-disgraced members of the political class that form the talent roster of one of the fastest-growing tech startups.

Birthday greetings from 'NSync or Lance Armstrong

Started in 2017, Cameo enlists stars, some more faded and obscure than others, to produce mostly short, handheld smartphone videos on demand. The stars set the fees for their personalized greetings.

Scaramucci started off charging $100 per video, then knocked the price down to $50.

Former heartthrob Lance Bass of the 1990's boy band 'NSync will press record for $249.

"He has sent me here to officially help you say, 'Bye, Bye, Bye' to your 20s and welcome to the best decade of your life," says a 41-year-old Bass in one video. There's no makeup or fancy lighting. Bass is dressed in a plain t-shirt, in front of a blank wall in a dimly-lit room.

For about $50 more, actress Lindsay Lohan will film a selfie from her home in Dubai. Just don't mind the desert sunlight washing out most of the frame.

There are bargains, like comedian Carrot Top, who charges $15 a pop for a video. Boxer Floyd Mayweather is among the pricier options, asking $999 for a video. Disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong is on the roster ($400), as is Snoop Dogg ($750).

"Gabriella, happy birthday. Happy Birthday. Eighteen years old?" said Snoop Dogg with a whistle on a video for a fan. "What a beautiful thing."

'People are more famous than they are rich'

The way CEO Steven Galanis tells it, he came up with the concept of Cameo after pondering this fact: nearly 80 percent of retired NFL players go broke within two years of retirement.

"This was really shocking to me. When you look at the people that have gone broke, it is boldnamers, it's hall of famers," said Galanis, 32 and a former Chicago stock trader.

Fame is an expansive concept in 2020: Whether pro athletes or TikTok stars, more people than ever are considered famous in some fashion. Cameo helps them make money off of it.

"Big clout doesn't mean enduring wealth," Galanis said. "People are more famous than they are rich, especially in the social media age."

The coronavirus pandemic has been a boon for Galanis' business model, with stars unable to perform and fans trapped at home, unable to socialize.

"In a world where all live entertainment has shut down, suddenly the whole creative class finds themselves unemployed all at one time," he said. "All celebrities are gig economy workers."

Cameo's business has grown sevenfold from last year, with an estimated market valuation of $300 million, according to analytics firm PitchBook. Venture capitalists are watching closely.

"Cameo is on a tear," said Ilya Fushman with the Silicon Valley firm Kleiner Perkins, which has invested in Cameo."I don't know of many places where you can get paid a few hundred bucks for doing literally 30 seconds of work."

'Tiger King' activist brought in $100,000 in one week

Cameo pockets 25% of every video purchase. Still, Gallanis says, some stars make enough videos to pull in six-figure sums a month.

Carole Baskin, from the hit Netflix show Tiger King, is cranking out hundreds of $199 videos a day, pulling in $100,000 in just a single week, Gallanis said.

But who pays for shaky selfies by celebrities whose 15 minutes may be long behind them? People like Tim Davis of Nashville.

He found the website while searching for a gift for his wife. She happens to be a fan of the sci-fi TV show Outlander. For $40, actor Steven Cree, who plays Ian Murray, would record a birthday wish for her.

"It was something that I thought would be a little bit different. And it was completely unexpected," Davis said.

Davis' wife Coralie Le Coguic says at first she didn't know what to make of the video.

"I was so confused," she said. "Because I didn't know why this person was saying my name and talking about my life on the video."

But when she figured it out, Cree's sincere message about following her dreams brought her to tears.

She says it was a fun and moving experience. Also, a little strange.

"I always think any time you do something that is celebrity, fan-oriented, it's a little bizarre — that this one person who doesn't know you is so special," she said.

Silicon Valley investors, meanwhile, are betting that celebrity Cameos are not just a passing fad, but maybe the future of fame.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.