Cameo Is Giving Striking Actors a Financial Lifeline

Cameo, which allows celebrities to send personalized video messages to fans for a fee, is seeing a resurgence among actors looking for an alternative source of income amid the current SAG-AFTRA strike.

Notable names who joined or reactivated their accounts since the onset of the SAG-AFTRA strike include Alyssa Milano, who charges $300 for a personalized video; Cheyenne Jackson, who charges $95 for a video and $3 for a message; Chris Wood, who charges $499 for a personalized video and $20 for a message; China Anne McClain, who charges $199 for a video; and Melissa Benoist, who charges $400 for a personalized video and $20 for a message.

The company’s chief executive officer Steven Galanis told TheWrap that the service has seen a notable uptick of new talent onboarding or existing talent reactivating their accounts in the wake of the labor stoppage. And while Cameo might be a boon for striking actors, the renewed activity is also a much needed infusion of revenue for the company, which recently underwent layoffs.

With some assist from a unique deal with SAG, over 1,550 actors — both union and non-union — have joined or reactivated their accounts (after over 90 days of inactivity on the service) since July 14. That’s a 137% increase month over month, according to Cameo. July is historically one of the two slowest months of the year for the platform (January is the other one) and holidays are usually their busiest times.

“The fact that we’re having local record-breaking weeks of talent coming on at a period of the year where we tend to not see talent being on Cameo — because in the summer they tend to be working a lot — that’s been a big change from what we’ve seen in the past six, seven years,” Galanis explained.

Launched in 2017, Cameo was initially geared towards pro athletes. However, just six months after launch, the offering was expanded to actors and actresses. The service then saw huge growth during the pandemic. Today, Cameo has a total talent base of 50,000 people.

“When you think about the people that have made the most money historically, the vast majority of those are actors and actresses,” Galanis explained.

“The Office” actor Brian Baumgartner is Cameo’s highest-grossing talent of all time and James Buckley from the U.K. show ‘The Inbetweeners” is the most booked member of all time.

“There’s just something about television stars and movie stars that have always really resonated with the customers on Cameo,” Galanis continued.

Similar to when COVID-19 halted Hollywood productions, the current labor dispute has allowed the service to become a “public utility” for the industry, he said.

“We don’t want our talent not being able to work or not being able to support their family,” Galanis added. “It’s been a really exciting time for the company over the last couple of years as we’ve evolved from something that a lot of people in Hollywood looked at as kind of a disruptor to now a pretty critical piece of the infrastructure of Hollywood.”

Why Cameo works for striking actors

Content made for Cameo is OK under the SAG-AFTRA strike rules as long as it’s not used to promote work for a struck company. In May, the video service made a pact with the guild so actors can apply the earnings from brand deals done for Cameo for Business toward their health insurance minimum requirements and pension.

According to SAG, 87% of union members currently do not meet the $26,000 per year threshold required to qualify for health insurance.

“We recognize that our members need to be working in areas that are not struck right now,” Sue-Anne Morrow, SAG-AFTRA national director of contract strategic initiatives and podcasts told TheWrap. “We support them in their efforts to work on projects that aren’t struck and don’t promote struck work, and that work includes everything from podcasts to commercials to influencer and Cameo for Business brand deals.”

While acknowledging that the Cameo for Business agreement with the guild is a “work in progress,” Galanis emphasized that it has offered much-needed support for actors whose auxiliary income streams have dried up due to the strike.

On Cameo, members charge a variety of prices, ranging from $1 to $1,500 for a consumer video. The average price for a Cameo for Business booking is $1,700, while non-business bookings are priced at an average of $70. Cameo takes a 25% cut of the booking fee, while the remainder of the proceeds are given to the talent. Earnings for individual talent since July 14 have ranged from $5 to $25,000.

And while some actors are using Cameo as an alternative source of income, others see it as a way to simply connect with their fans.

“China has always enjoyed connecting with her supporters in different ways,” McClain’s spokesperson told TheWrap. “Cameo is a platform she had long considered testing out, as many have, but just didn’t have the time. Now that the WGA and SAG are striking, she decided it was a good time for her to try it and interact with some of her audience.”

A much-needed boost for Cameo too

The uptick in actors joining or reactivating their Cameo accounts comes as the company has reduced its headcount to fewer than 50 employees amid economic uncertainty. The Information recently reported that Cameo has had difficulties raising fresh funding and that some of the company’s investors are hoping it finds a buyer.

Galanis, who declined to disclose specifics on the privately held company’s financials, pushed back, arguing that any of Cameo’s potential challenges are similarly impacting the broader tech industry and that the company isn’t for sale.

“It’s a hard environment for Cameo. It’s a hard environment for a lot of companies in tech and in entertainment broadly right now,” Galanis said.

Looking ahead, Galanis expects retention on the service to continue even after the SAG-AFTRA strike is resolved.

“What we tend to see in our marketplace is once people get on the app and they try it and they make the videos, they tend to really like it. So our talent retention tends to be really strong,” he said.

“Do I expect there to continue to be the same flood of talent joining the platform after the strike is over? Probably not,” he continued. “But I think that what we are very well positioned to do is to take the talent that come on, give them a great user experience and have them stay.”

For all of TheWrap’s strike coverage, click here.

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