The internet has allowed everyone and everything to be interconnected, and the founders of Cameo want to monetize that. (Image via Vox)
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The internet has allowed everyone and everything to be interconnected, and the founders of Cameo want to monetize that. (Image via Vox)

Think of the joke material.

What would you pay to get a real personal video encounter with one of your favorite celebrities? That’s the question Cameo, a new app, wants you to ask. Cameo offers users the opportunity to connect with any of a roster of willing celebrities via a personalized video message.

Its roster contains an eclectic list of actors, Instagram comedians, musicians, reality show hosts, athletes and drag queens. The service lets users pay to receive a personal video message from a member of the “talent,” as Cameo calls its celebrity users.

It works like this: Users send money to a specific member of Cameo’s talent, along with a message describing what they want the celebrity to say. Cameo suggests using its service for things you might use a greeting card for instead, such as wishing a friend a happy birthday or congratulate a college graduate.

Then, in a matter of days, the talent will either decline the request or film a video of themselves per the message guidelines. The videos range in production quality, since some talents record theirs on what look like home sets, while others just shoot from their phone’s front cameras wherever they happen to be.

When the payment goes through, Cameo takes a flat 25% cut, with the other 75% going straight to the talent that recorded the video message. They deliver the video via email to whoever the user wants within a week of the original request. Cameo serves as the middleman in charge of handling payments and sending the video without compromising the celebrity’s contact information.

The cost varies depending on who you pick, ranging anywhere from about $25 or $30 for less in-demand celebrities to several thousand dollars for wealthier or better-known ones, but the prices mainly seem to be in the sub-$100 area. That might be because Cameo so far mainly offers B-list, midrange, or niche celebrities among its “talent.”

That’s partially by design, apparently — the founder and CEO of the app, Steven Galanis, hopes this will be a way for “the 99% of talent” (B-listers) to monetize their fame, such as it is. Galanis contrasts his company’s talent with celebrities like “the Kardashians and the Drakes,” who don’t need middlemen to make millions of dollars off their social media presence.

The customer allegedly gets more from Cameo than they would from more famous celebrities, since they’re actually talking directly to you and only you. Compared to autographs or selfies, Cameo videos (Cameos?) seem much more intimate and more demanding of a celebrity’s time.

And what does the talent get from this? According to Galanis, not only do they get to leverage their fame for some income, it’s a good way to give their fame a bump. The theory goes that receiving a personal video from a celebrity practically guarantees the recipient becomes a lifelong fan, maybe along with whoever gifted the video to them.

And since each talent makes plenty of videos, that means a blossoming number of guaranteed devoted followers. But the way that Cameos work seems like they could easily make things go the other way.

Cameo insists to both fans and prospective talent in its FAQ that fulfilling Cameo requests is a top priority.  Of course, not all requests can be filled: because the internet is the internet, there’s a clause that explains requests can be rejected for being explicit or potentially damaging to the talent’s image. I’m glad this rule exists, personally, and it’s not something I have a problem with.

Talents are also allowed to decline any request that they “don’t feel comfortable doing.” After 7 days, Cameo requests disappear, and instead of a fun message from a favorite B-lister, the person who ordered the video just gets a sad gif in their inbox (people who make requests that aren’t fulfilled don’t get charged). That conveniently allows Cameo to keep its rules on content lax, letting each member of talent decide on their individual comfort levels.

But if receiving a personalized vid from a star makes someone a lifelong fan, what happens if that star declines for reasons that are unclear to the fan? On the internet, the feeling of being jilted by a celebrity could catch and spread rapidly, especially if that celebrity is B-list or lower. Looking too “entitled” could be seriously toxic to a celebrity’s career, especially one looking to better their image.

Basically, Cameo is like a near-continuous, extra-intimate autographing event where the talent can leave at any time (or go temporarily unavailable if they want a break). It’s a quick and easy way for celebrities to cash in on their fame, and maybe even increase their fan appeal in the process.

The risk is that if it somehow goes wrong — the performance is off, somebody doesn’t take a rejection well or retroactively considers the set price too high — the theory about guaranteed fans could run in reverse. And outrage on the internet is worth a lot.

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Ryan Secard

College of Wooster

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