Swedish Startup Rides `Serial' Wave Taking Podcast App to U.S.

  • Acast investors include Rovio co-founder, Bonnier Group
  • Acast U.K. chief is ex-Spotify European sales director

Acast, the Swedish podcast application backed by Angry Birds creator Kaj Hed and Nordic publishing group Bonnier AB, is crossing the Atlantic to start service in the U.S. Monday, riding demand that podcasts like “Serial” ignited last year.

The Stockholm-based startup, which currently operates in Sweden and the U.K. with 24 million listeners a month, has deals to air content from the Financial Times, Buzzfeed and youth-brand Fusion, Chief Executive Officer Mans Ulvestam said in an interview. Acast will also carry popular podcasts such as “Call Your Girlfriend,” formatted like a phone call between two, long-distance best friends, and “Ask a Clean Person,” for cleaning tips such as how to get rid of armpit stains.

Acast, started in 2014, is free to listeners and allows podcast producers to sell ad space to clients such as Burger King Worldwide Inc., 21st Century Fox Inc., and ESPN, Ulvestam said. Podcasts are continuing to grow in popularity, with an estimated 17 percent of Americans listening to them every month, up from 9 percent in 2008, according to Edison Research.

“Two years ago with ‘Serial’, podcasts exploded and now people are listening every day,” said Ulvestam, 45. “We decided to disrupt it and change it to a professional mass media. We’ve had fantastic traction.”

“Serial” is a weekly podcast that traces a real-life story. The first season debuted in October 2014 and investigated the 1999 murder of Hae Min Lee, an 18-year-old student in Baltimore. The widely anticipated second season is scheduled to begin airing within weeks.

The company, which closed a Series A funding round of more than $5 million led by Bonnier and a follow-on investment from venture capital firm MOOR, is aiming to raise more money next year, Ulvestam said.

“We’ve had no trouble finding money in Europe, but in talking with the U.S. investors they are definitely dealing with larger sums,” he said.

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