Adam Abramson of 'Carpool Karaoke' Dishes About Putting TV Content Online

Adam Abramson, director of digital content for "The Late Late Show with James Corden," brings a digital-first approach to his job. In this Q&A with Think with Google editor Brianne Janacek Reeber, Adam shares lessons for brands aiming to create content in a world where relevance trumps platform.

Unless you've been hiding under a rock, you've probably seen at least one "Carpool Karaoke" segment—and I'm willing to bet you jammed out to it. But did you watch online or on TV?

It's an interesting question for a TV show format that has traditionally measured success with ratings. But CBS's "The Late Late Show with James Corden" is growing remarkably on YouTube. The channel boasts more than 9.5M subscribers, and has notched 2.3B views worldwide. Its subscriber count is growing at a rate twice that of other late night shows.

Adam Abramson, the show's Emmy-winning director of digital content, explained to Think with Google how he navigates the intersection of TV and digital at the network. In short, he's making room for digital to have a seat at every table—and in so doing, he's redefining what success looks like for late-night TV.

Q: How do you and your team think about the intersection of TV and YouTube?

People are changing the way they watch. What we ask ourselves at "The Late Late Show" is, how should we count everyone who said they saw a clip, but didn't watch it live? If you've never seen the show at 11:30 p.m. but you've seen every episode of "Carpool Karaoke" we've ever done, do you count as a viewer? Does it matter?

Q: So how do you measure success?

The blurred lines of video consumption have changed the way success of any TV show should be measured. That's particularly true for us since we originally air after midnight. We're in the relevance business. The first thing we do when we come in in the morning is look at how our videos performed on YouTube. Our executive producer, Ben Winston, says, "The overnight ratings just tell us who managed to stay awake past midnight. The YouTube numbers tell us which bits flew." I couldn't agree more.

Case in point: Viewership of "Carpool Karaoke" on YouTube regularly eclipses viewership on the show itself.

Adele Carpool Karaoke

Q: You've called yourself a "digital guy in a traditional world." How does that outlook shape your work?

In college I worked as an editor for our daily newspaper. Digital was still getting its legs and was treated like an appendage to traditional formats. My job was to take traditional media content and format it for the web. I jumped over to TV once I got the chance to work with Jimmy Fallon at his original 12:30 a.m. slot. The first 18 months I was there, we didn't post any content to YouTube. But as we saw more and more audiences consuming content online, we knew our content needed to be there too.

When Jimmy transitioned to "The Tonight Show," we saw a great opportunity to reinvent our digital presence and keep our built-in audience. Working with the team to build the show's digital identity prepared me for my next role on "The Late Late Show with James Corden," where I'm helping build a new digital approach from the ground up.

Q: In this age of on-demand popular entertainment, TV has faced a steep learning curve. What was it like coming in as the new digital guy on the block?

In the old world, we would make a TV show and then pick which parts we wanted to put online. In the new world, online has a seat at every table—from the beginning. And that was part of the agreement when I joined "The Late Late Show." I wanted digital to be an integral part of what we did, not an afterthought.

That said, it took some adjusting. I had to be bullish about the new process. I remember one time during the first two weeks, I walked by a meeting that was happening with James and the producer. I popped my head in and said, "This is the kind of meeting I should be involved in." And they looked at me and said, "Well, then join us."

Q: You and your team have built some of YouTube's most popular content. What have you learned that might inspire brands trying to replicate your success?

I imagine that what works for us in TV comedy is similar to the kinds of things that brands and marketers are trying to do. We're all telling stories and hoping people will tune in, right?

Here are two things I'd say. First, when viewers love something, they don't care where it comes from. They're not giving much thought to where they're watching something; they're just drawn to content that pulls them in.

Second, people like to feel like they belong to something. And James is great at that because he presents himself as a buddy you can hang out with, because that's who he is naturally. Our show strikes a chord with viewers because it creates intimacy in such a lovely way. And James has learned that from the best YouTube creators who are genuinely authentic. We've purposefully taken a very un-late night TV approach to create this friendly feel. For example, he doesn't interview guests one by one from behind his desk. He brings all the guests out together for a more conversational feel.

When viewers love something, they don't care where it comes from. They're not giving much thought to where they're watching something.

Q: What makes you most excited about the future of the show as it relates to YouTube?

The beauty of YouTube is that success has nothing to do with what time your show is on the air or whether you were up against a playoff basketball game. Success comes the next day, and even later as people find your stuff. YouTube's culture and community are what make it what it is. It's a real-time feedback mechanism. We're constantly looking at comments and metrics to know what's resonating and what's not. And really I think we've just started to scratch the surface of what's possible with engaging YouTube viewers.

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