Cameo wants the children’s entertainment industry to know it’s open for business as it aims to become a hub for brands and creators looking to engage young fans.
Since its launch in 2017, the online platform has carved out a strong market niche as a service allowing consumers to purchase short, personalized video messages from celebrities ranging from skateboarding legend Tony Hawk to rapper OG Snoop Dogg.
Its business really took off during the pandemic, when consumers stuck at home flocked to Cameo in droves as a way to reach out and connect with friends and family. Today, the platform has over 50,000 personalities, who have delivered over four million cameos and live calls to their fans around the world.
But the reach of these messages is exponentially greater than their sum total, says Cameo president Arthur Leopoldgiven that 85% of them are shared on social networks or otherwise distributed to friends by their recipients.
A number of celebrities, voice actors and TikTok stars with an appeal to children have been longtime residents on the platform, including Scott Innes (the voice of Scooby-Doo) and Ernie Sabella ( who voiced Pumba in The Lion King).But children’s entertainment brands were conspicuously absent until more recently.
The platform added popular YouTuber Blippi in 2019, then struck a deal with Universal to feature The Boss Baby posts in October 2021. The success of those launches piqued the company’s interest. “We want to partner with more studios and IP owners,” says Leopold. “Children’s content is a big opportunity for us.”
The company is poised for growth now after securing US$100 million in funding last March. And breaking into more niches and fandoms is high on his priority list, according to Leopold. Cameo is also introducing new features that will give kids a wider variety of options to connect with the characters they love, such as live events with 10-15 minute streaming experiences and live video calls. .
Outside of mascots at live events, there aren’t really many opportunities in the market for personalized interactions, says Leopold. “On Cameo, brands and characters can speak directly to children, and that kind of engaging experience can turn a child into a lifelong fan.”
This potential for building lasting relationships with fans is one of the main reasons Toronto’s Guru Studio chose to bring its flagship animated series True and the Rainbow Kingdom on the Cameo platform in June.
Guru had previously received requests from parents wanting True to speak to their children in home videos. But back then, there weren’t many kids’ brands on Cameo, and animated characters were even rarer (except for a few big brands like Thomas and Friends from Mattel).
Studio saw opportunity to meet existing demand while creating new type of consumer product that could mark milestones in children’s lives, says VP of Marketing Daniel Ratner.
True is one of the first animated characters to appear on Cameo, where families can order short videos in which the eponymous character wishes children a happy birthday, celebrates their milestones (like college graduations), or simply says hello. The videos are about a minute long, and Guru charges $25 for each (Cameo taking standard 25% on all transactions).
The job of animating and customizing the videos would have been too expensive and time-consuming for the studio to handle on its own, so it turned to Texas-based software developer Aquifer Motion. Aquifer has built a platform that uses 3D animation, AI and AR to allow producers to create videos for any platform, a perfect service for Cameo.
Live performers can record themselves reading the personalized message, then Aquifer’s technology will automatically overlay True’s animated face and voice over the videos.
Guru provided Aquifer with artwork and oversaw the animation featured in the video posts to ensure it was true to the show. The studio also built a simple pipeline for scripts, approvals, and animation to ensure that turnaround time would keep up with demand. Using this process, Guru is typically able to deliver a video message within three days.
The response from kids and families has been positive, and when kids share their reactions to the videos on social media, Guru can see in real time what’s working and what they like most about the brand, Rattner says. “Personalized video is an exciting opportunity to go beyond traditional consumer product and television experiences,” he said. “It offers something unique, personal and intimate.”
Cameo is also proving to be a welcome replacement for live events, adds Steve Watts, a YouTuber whose channel, Steve and Maggie, has amassed 5.4 million subscribers. Its namesake preschool show features Watts and a bird puppet singing songs, telling bedtime stories, and playing games.
COVID-19 put all live performances featuring Steve and Maggie on the shelf, and those opportunities still haven’t returned to pre-pandemic levels. But since joining Cameo in 2020, Watts has been able to connect with his fans around the world through live calls and personalized videos.
As he seeks to expand his brand beyond YouTube, Watts can also highlight his success on Cameo during meetings and negotiations with potential broadcast and distribution partners. His 250+ videos of Steve and Maggie on the platform, along with the positive reviews they’ve generated from happy customers, help him demonstrate the popularity and engagement potential of IP.
Watts also discovered some simple strategies for succeeding on Cameo, like raising the price of a video if demand hits a certain level, or setting up windows in the live experience feature where he can meet 20-30 fans. right after the other.
“There were more and more requests for me to record messages, and Cameo came on my radar at just the right time,” says Watts. “With the click of a button, I can be thrown into someone’s living room and talk directly to the fans.”
Kids yoga feeling Jaime Amor— whose YouTube channel Cosmic Kids Yoga has 1.3 million subscribers — says Cameo helps her engage with her audience in ways that wouldn’t otherwise be possible. On YouTube, Amor’s ability to converse one-on-one with his viewers is limited because comments are not enabled on children’s videos.
During the pandemic, she was inundated with emails from families asking her to make personalized videos to wish the kids a happy birthday or give them a pep talk, and she was responding to those requests herself.
Going it alone was time-consuming and left too much room for error – Amor had to take notes of what the families wanted her to say, record the videos, then email them directly to the recipients. Managing this “side business” with its regular content production schedule quickly became overwhelming.
Amor joined Cameo in early 2022, seeing it as a way to make the process faster and easier. Now she simply opens each request from a notification that arrives on her cellphone, which activates her camera and a teleprompter preloaded with message details. She records the greeting on video and sends it immediately.
She can also re-record as needed, and the app keeps her up to date on deadlines so she doesn’t miss a child’s birthday. The app also handles payment and video delivery, and allows Amor to send a quick text through its chat feature to thank the person who made the request. She’s only made about 10 videos this way so far, but she’s yet to start marketing the fact that she’s on the platform (wanting to test the waters first).
Despite its slowness, Amor says Cameo is already opening up other opportunities beyond individual home videos. For example, she has received several requests from teachers who want her to give pep talks to their classes to get kids interested in exercise and physical activity. She sees this group approach as a new way to reach a wider audience, while creating something special and personalized.
She adds that the future of personalized videos for kids looks bright. “It’s a wonderful connection that’s super personal. Kids can participate in what you create when they submit what they want to see, and that makes the content that much more important to them. And it reinforces their engagement with the end product.
This story originally appeared in the October/November 2022 edition of Children’s screen magazine.