local media insider
Case study

Spoken editions provide new source of revenue

Newspapers dive into podcasting


Key Executive: Ginger Neal

Media Company: SF Chronicle

Initiative: Spoken Edition

Technology: Spokenlayer

Challenge: The listening, off-screen audience is  exploding, an estimated growth of $8 to $20 billion from 2016 to 2020 In addition, sales of audio assistant equipment like Alexis and Echo is growing even faster, with sales surging by 9 times in one year.  The SF Chronicle recognised this trend as an important new opportunity to monetise news. In 2017, the team decided to begin audio editions of the news, with the goal of establishing leadership in local audio publishing.  “We felt it was important to get into the market quickly,¨Neal said. 

The Spoken Edition of the SF Chronicle launch in November, 2017 


To build a strategy for audiocasting the news, the company first had to decide whether on not to outsource the production and distribution of the audio content. 

Outsourcing offered speed to market and the ability to monetise right away. In house production, on the other hand, would allow the company to grow its own internal capacity and to brand lits own local personalities. 

The team eventually opted to go down both routes; outsourcing daily production while experimenting with producing a few DIY shows using their local talent and studio via Facebook Live. 

Outsourcing via SoundLayer

For the daily podcasts the SF Chronicle partnered with SpokenLayer, a turnkey solution that allowed them to launch almost overnight, meeting their goal of speed to market.

To produce the mini-podcasts, SpokenLayer maintains a freelance network of voice actors, from which the newpspaper selected talent that provided an "NPR-like" vocal experience.

In addition, Spokenlayer has a core content distribution network including iTunes, Google Play, Spotify and Amazon, the largest of which is iTunes.  This network meant that the new daily podcasts were immediately syndicated.

SpokenLayer also provided a robust advertisers network allowing SF Chronicle to “start making money immediately,”  Neal said, a criteria that was especially important.

Finally, SpokenLayer ticked off the last check box on the list: As a strategic partner, the company is well-established, and is already providing audio talent and distribution for such media giants as Huffington Post, and other Bay Area media like Salon.

The DIY strategy

In addition to partnering with SpokenLayer, the Chronicle also wanted to grow their own talent, so they decided to create a production studio for Facebook Live and leverage newsroom talent for specific shows, monetised with a sponsorship model.

The steps focused on easily leveraged resources and building capacity in stages:

  • Utilizing Facebook Live to create videos and podcasts

  • Leveraging existing interviews and coverage areas. "We are already doing these interviews," Neal said. These were leveraged with a redesign of the workflow. 

  • Producing three products: Audio, video and social "onsite play," in each recording.

  • Developing internal talent and newsroom brands


The next decision for both the SpokenLayer partnership and DIY podcast initiative involved choosing the types and frequency of content produced.

For the partnership with SpokenLayer, the spoken edition consists of four three-to-five minute segments a day in five core categories for a total of 80 stories a week. The categories they selected already have strong print and online audiences:

The DIY content launched with three branded shows.

  • "It´s all political," a show created by Joe Garfoli, a local writer turned commentator, includes interviews with well-known local guests from the political and sports world.
  • "The Big Event," a Bay-area centric pop-culture broadcast that also includes local celebrity and non-celebrity guest interviews.

After recording on Facebook Live, the content is repurposed for additional channels.

For example, Start-Ups of the Week is recorded on a Tuesday as a Facebook Live broadcast, produced and edited on a Wednesday, stripping the video for an audio mp3 file for the podcast channel.

On Thursday the file is embedded in articles and the podcast channel, distributed via iTunes, included in a newsletter and promoted on social media.


Media have a huge advantage in their ability ot promote podcasts, if they build a robust plan. In addition to SpokenLayer´s distribution network, the SF Chronicle promotes its Podcast channel with all of the media assets including the main website´s Home and Channel pages, the navigation bar, print ads, email and social media.

Below is an example of static web ads promoting the channel:

Embeded within an article, the promo looks like this:

Here is  one of their newspaper ads:


For the daily edition, audio pre-roll ads from the network are featured at the beginning and end of segments and between verticals, so revenue was immediate. Already in the network are huge companies like Uber, Lyft, PG&E, BevMo and Kiaser Permanente. 

Monetization of the DIY shows works more like launching a new app on a sponsorship model. The sponsorship starts with a flat fee that allows early adapting clients to take advantage of anticipated rapid growth, eventual below-market rates and first rights of refusal, as exclusivity tapers off.

The first paid sponsor was the San Francisco Symphony. “We guaranteed them exclusivity for all channels for 90 days, then three channels exlusively” for an additonal period.

For the launch, anyways, “It’s really whatever price model makes sense,” Neal say. 

Anticipated revenue models, once metrics are known, include branded native content and bundled packages that include other assets. Below is an example of a proposed native ad unit. 

The Roadmap  

A variety of shows using the DIY method are under development including Inside Scoop, Opinion Central, The Dress Down and Warriors Off Court.

Additionally, SF Chronicle is looking at how to build capacity to deliver content in more ways, to enhance targeting and to create better analytical reports. Specifically, they are planning to add:

  • Mulitple embedded players instead of just one

  • Ability to target ads to the right consumers

  • A content delivery system that understands consumer behavior

  • Deeper standardised reporting

Results and lessons learned

Results after the first three months are promising:

  • The top three shows are news, with 10,000 total views a day. Business and Technology, with 600 a day, and A&E with 400 a day, and a total of 4,000 downloads a day. Breaking even on the SpokenLayer network is 1,000 views a day, so the company has well-surpassed this marker. 
  • 80% of the network distribution has been on iTunes.
  • Besides new revenue streams, the SF Chronicle has found a number of benefits. The podcasts are reaching new audiences and allowing SFC to become a news resource during prime audio time, such as drive time, where they otherwise had no access to these consumers.
  • SF Chronicle is increasinlgy equiped to  compete with radio, TV and Pandora for the ‘off screen’ listeners.

  • The initiative leverages existing talent and depth of content on a scale beyond capabilities of most competitors.

  • The talent and brand of news teams are developing.

  • The newsroom “is a little worried, there is so much enthusiasm."

  • The biggest challenge has been rearranging the workflow.
  • It is a way of migrating a young audience to the news brand. ¨Our suspicion is that it will attract younger audiences who do not have a brand affinity.”
  • Spokenlayer said the news podcasts are  primarily cutting into the marketshare of other podcasts for off-screen listeners.

Many thanks to Ginger Neal and SpokenLayer for sharing this case study at the 2018 Mega Conference. 


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