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The Secret to Carpool Karaoke’s Success

Andy Michael looks at the phenomenon of Carpool Karaoke and why this segment has been such a roaring success.

On 8 September 2014, US TV network CBS announced that James Corden, originally from Buckinghamshire in the UK, would be succeeding Craig Ferguson as host of the quintessentially American late-night talk-show, The Late Late Show.

Those were some big shoes to fill and initial reaction to the curveball casting choice was mixed, to say the least. Despite the tremendous success of British talent on American network and cable television over the years (Andrew Lincoln in The Walking Dead, Damian Lewis in Homeland, Hugh Laurie in HOUSE), The Late Late Show is no scripted drama. It’s a variety show and talk show for American audiences and many were taken aback that a major TV network was prepared to gamble an iconic slot on its night-time schedule on such an unknown British face.

James Corden The Late Late Show Carpool Karaoke

The critics, however, were silenced as soon as James Corden made his debut. Nailing both the everyman and the ‘family man’, his self-deprecating humour, ‘teddy bear’ warmth, natural banter and chemistry with his guests and unquestionable flair for singing and stage performance earned him a legion of fans.But the real break-out MVP of Corden’s Late Late Show was the Carpool Karaoke segment, where James and some musical guests sing along to their notable tunes whilst driving around LA in a bid to help Corden get to work. Inspired by a sketch from Gavin & Stacey he had participated in for Red Nose Day 2011 with George Michael, Corden has taken the concept to the next level, securing some of the biggest names in music, politics and acting to join him behind the wheel. On an emotional level, the result is delightfully satisfying, allowing viewers to see a more relatable version of their favourite stars.

The show tested the formula during Corden’s first week on the job when Mariah Carey agreed to be a guest but couldn’t appear in person. Since then, the format has spawned some unforgettable episodes and Carpool Karaoke has cemented Corden’s considerable digital influence. From Chris Martin and Gwen Stefani to Michelle Obama, George Clooney and Julia Roberts, celebs are queuing up to align themselves with the viral phenomenon that Carpool Karaoke has become. And when you have a brand new album out released in the same week the segment hits the airwaves (Britney, Glory) or you’re a celebrity desperately in need of a spot of positive humanising (Justin Bieber!) joining forces with the lovable Corden is a great PR move. And a savvy commercial one –  the featured musicians are positively cashing in!

From stealing Jennifer Lopez’s phone and sending a flirty text to Leonardo DiCaprio, Stevie Wonder serenading James’ wife Julia on the phone and making James well up to James giving Adele a run for her money in the vocal stakes, the show has yielded so many magical moments that have seen its popularity soar. The Carpool Karaoke with Adele has become the most viewed online clip in the history of late-night television.

So, exactly how has this segment become the leader in the viral sensation race? Largely due to its time-slot, the show isn’t exactly luring Shonda Rhimes style audience figures. The answer to monetization lies in its unique sponsorship mileage and potential.

According to the creators, “Digital” is “central to how the show is funded”, primarily through lucrative brand integrations. When you see a Drive-Thru like McDonald’s, for example, featured in a segment, or indeed another spot of similar product placement, however subtle or prominent it may strike the viewer, it has most certainly been pre-arranged in a deal between the show and the sponsor. The sponsor gets their brand image out there, piggybacking on a show that engages tens of millions of avid YouTube viewers, the show earns revenue from the featured sponsor and indeed, further promotional extensions await: McDonald’s printed “’The Late Late Show with James Corden’ — On Every Night On CBS” on every  bag, cup and carton in all of its American outlets for 6 weeks! This revenue format is clearly working, so much so that the segment is now being shopped as a format to international broadcasters.

In its first year, Carpool Karaoke has established itself as both TV and internet gold. We know too well, however, that if a program isn’t making money, broadcasters have no qualms in throwing down the axe. Fortunately for fans all over the world, Carpool Karaoke has helped the show to defy its limitations as a late-night show with a late-night-sized audience, with online consumption that is off the scale. And because of this, there will be plenty more Carpool Karaoke to come. A standard has been set now and we positively cannot wait to see which recording royalty Corden manages to line up for the next run!

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