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PRX launches new mobile-listening company RadioPublic

The nonprofit radio distributor PRX is launching a startup that will build on-demand listening platforms for mobile devices.

Jake Shapiro, founding chief executive of the Cambridge syndication firm Public Radio Exchange, will lead the new spinoff, a for-profit company called RadioPublic.

PRX handles the distribution of public radio programming, as well as thousands of podcasts. The new company, which will remain closely partnered with PRX, will develop mobile apps for consumers, said Kerri Hoffman, PRX’s chief operating officer, who is replacing Shapiro as chief executive.

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“Now, RadioPublic can really focus on the listener part, on writing the kind of algorithms that will strengthen content discovery,” Hoffman said. “To do all of that inside one nonprofit organization is difficult.”

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Shapiro is hiring engineers to join a three-person team that’s working from new offices at Project 11 Ventures near Downtown Crossing in Boston. Project 11 is a seed-stage investor. Shapiro declined to disclose the terms of the deal.

In addition to Project 11, investors include The New York Times, American Public Media, the Knight Foundation Enterprise Fund, and Matter Ventures, a venture capital firm Shapiro cofounded that funds media startups.

Since 2003, PRX has run public radio’s largest distribution marketplace, offering thousands of shows, including “This American Life,” “The Moth Radio Hour,” and “Reveal.”

In 2014, PRX launched Radiotopia, a podcast collective. It has quickly grown to more than 10 million downloads per month.

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The popularity of podcasts has grown, culminating in the success of “Serial,” an offshoot of “This American Life” whose episodic structure attracted millions of listeners and a flurry of companies seeking sponsorship deals.

Advances in smartphone technology have made mobile the preferred medium for accessing podcasts, according to Pew Research Center data released in April 2015. An analysis of 2.6 billion podcasts downloaded from one syndication firm’s servers found that 63 percent were done through mobile devices in 2014. In 2012, it was 43 percent.

“We knew that this was going to be a tipping point,” Shapiro said. “And we knew that we need to focus on the next generation of listeners.”

Its affiliation with PRX makes RadioPublic well-positioned to compete with other new and established podcast listening apps. The radio exchange isn’t new to the space, having launched its native listening app PRX Remix in 2013.

But some listeners may prefer to stick with the classic podcast listening app that’s preinstalled on iPhones. The on-demand Internet radio service Stitcher was one of the first services of its kind when it was launched in 2008, while National Public Radio’s NPR One app now features a personalized stream of recommended podcasts.

Amanda Burke can be reached
at amanda.burke@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @charlie_acb.