Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Celebrity Chat for the Skype Age: Greenroom Brings Dr. Drew to Your Laptop

Drew Pinsky has three TV shows, a syndicated radio show and a Twitter account that reaches 2.7 million people.

Not enough Dr. Drew for you? Now you can buy more. The physician-turned-celebrity talker is launching Greenroom, a service that sells one-on-one video chats with famous people.

Next week, for instance, Pinsky is auctioning off 15 minutes of his time. Starting bid: $200.

Greenroom’s pitch is as simple as a Skype call: Celebrities sell Web video chats for a fixed price or via an auction, and the site collects 25 percent of the fee. The chats are private, but moderated by an operator. That’s it.

In other words, it’s a personal-appearance broker, updated for the Facetime/Google Hangout age. This is either one of those companies that should have been launched a long time ago, or one that hasn’t been launched before with good reason.

We’ll find out soon. Pinsky and co-founder Curtis Giesen say they’ve raised $2.5 million to get the service going, and Giesen is trying to round up a roster of famous people you might want to pay to see.

So far, that list is short on A-listers, but Giesen does have a blessing from the NFL Players Association. So maybe one day you’ll shell out a lot of money to chat with Eli Manning over the Internet. Meanwhile, you can get Kevin Faulk for $200, or Ray Rice for $1,500.

Pinsky says the idea was inspired by the personal lunches that Warren Buffett auctions off each year, albeit at a much higher price.

But doesn’t this swim against the tides of social media, where celebrities already speak directly to their fans, except it’s one-to-many instead of one-on-one?

Yes, and that’s intentional, says Pinsky, who uses Twitter but says he doesn’t “know that it’s accomplishing anything.” Twitter lets him talk at people, but the replies he gets are … unpleasant.

“Everyone I knew that had a public life was made miserable by Twitter, because it’s an environment  where people would come say the most vile things,” he says. “You would be shocked to see what most people have to tolerate on Twitter.”

This isn’t the first time that Pinsky and Giesen have taken a stab at the Web together. The former Amherst classmates launched in the late ’90s, but that Internet start-up met the same fate as most Internet start-ups launched in the late ’90s. Liberty Media Corp. CEO Greg Maffei invested in that venture, and is putting money into the new one, too.

Greenroom: How it Works from Greenroom on Vimeo.

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— Om Malik on Bloomberg TV, talking about Yahoo, the September issue of Vogue Magazine, and our overdependence on Google