Popular podcasts such as ‘Serial’, created by Sarah Koenig, have driven a rise in popularity of the format

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Apple has acquired the start-up behind a podcast search engine, as it tries to capture more of the fast-growing market for internet audio that it helped to invent more than a decade ago.

Indexing and searching audio files is much more challenging than the written word, which has made it harder for podcast listeners to find shows they want to listen to. 

Pop Up Archive was founded in 2012 to help podcast producers automatically transcribe their audio recordings into text, which can then be used to make recommendations or match advertisers with the right topics. 

Its Audiosear.ch search and recommendation engine was used by outlets including NPR, the US public radio organisation, and its popular radio series This American Life, until it shut down last week. 

The reason for its closure was revealed on Tuesday when Hot Pod, a podcasting industry newsletter, reported that the company had been acquired by Apple for an undisclosed sum. Nicholas Quah wrote that Apple had “acquired a technology dedicated to increasing the knowability and sortability of the hundreds of thousands of shows distributed through its Apple Podcast platform”, adding that it would have “widespread implications for the ecosystem”.

The iPhone maker confirmed the deal to the Financial Times, saying: “Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans.”

Podcasting takes its name from Apple’s iPod, the dominant digital audio player when the format first emerged in the mid-2000s. Podcast audiences have grown rapidly in recent years thanks to popular shows such as Serial, Radiolab, StartUp and Stuff You Should Know. About 67m Americans listen to a podcast every month, according to estimates from Edison Research. 

Apple’s Podcasts app for iPhones and iPads is among the most popular ways to listen to spoken-word audio content. Customers listened to 10bn podcast episodes in 2016 using its devices, including iPhones, iTunes and Apple TV, up from 8bn in 2015 and 7bn in 2014.

However, the industry’s growth has spurred competition from podcasting providers and platforms, including standalone apps such as Overcast, Stitcher and Pocket Casts, as well as broader audio services such as Spotify, SoundCloud and Amazon’s Audible. 

Earlier this year, Apple said that it would provide data and analytics to podcast creators about how their audiences listen — something broadcasters have long been seeking, particularly given that so many are dependent on advertising for income. 

Adding Audiosear.ch technology to that system would help Apple to recommend new podcasts for its audience while also giving producers more granular data about what kinds of episodes are proving most popular. 

A previous version of Pop Up Archive’s website, which has now been taken down, described Audiosear.ch as offering “full-text podcast search, transcripts, and time-stamped annotations (proper nouns, brands) as well as topic clusters, keywords, mood, and ratings”. 

The company was founded in the San Francisco Bay Area by Anne Wootton and Bailey Smith.

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