Apple Inc. and Sony Music Entertainment have each held talks about potentially acquiring Wondery, the producer of “Dirty John” and “Dr. Death,” according to people familiar with the matter, setting the stage for the biggest deal yet in the booming podcasting market.

Wondery is seeking US$300 million to US$400 million in a possible sale, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the negotiations are ongoing.

Apple and Sony are two of at least four companies that have discussed a deal with Wondery, according to one of the people. Though Spotify Technology SA has been the most aggressive buyer of podcasting companies over the last two years, the Swedish audio giant has pulled out of the running, said two people with knowledge of the talks. A deal is expected in coming months, but there’s no guarantee that the discussions won’t fall apart.

Wondery is one of the largest independent podcasting studios and networks, reaching a monthly audience of more than 8 million people, according to Podtrac, an industry measurement firm. A price tag north of US$300 million would surpass what Spotify paid for the Ringer and Gimlet Media, as well as what IHeartMedia paid for Stitcher.

It’s possible that the price tag could scare off some would-be bidders, especially since the podcasting industry is still fairly small. But Wondery has a pipeline of podcasts that could be turned into television series and other content. It’s already developing more than a dozen TV shows based on its podcasts, including a program for Apple about the rise and fall of WeWork.

For Apple, adding Wondery would mark the tech giant’s most prominent investment in podcasting in several years. It also would immediately give the company a strong library of original content. Apple has been pushing deeper into original series in recent years with its TV+ video service and is also creating podcasts to augment the video efforts, Bloomberg News has reported.

After first popularizing podcasting 15 years ago with iTunes, Cupertino, California-based Apple has been refining its services. It improved its Podcast app on the iPhone and iPad in recent years, launched a Mac app, added new analytics tools for podcasters, and improved its outreach with creators.

Smaller Deals

Apple also acquired at least two small podcasting companies. In 2017, it bought Pop Up Archive, a startup that built technology to improve searching for podcasts. Earlier this year, Bloomberg News reported that Apple bought Scout FM, a podcasting service that turns shows into radio-like stations.

Sony Corp.’s music arm, the second-largest music company in the world, has invested in a handful of podcasting ventures and funded dozens of original podcasts. Sony has been the most aggressive of the three major music companies in the genre, which became a focus following Spotify’s investment in the industry.

Spotify is the world’s largest paid music-streaming service and the biggest distributor for all the major music companies. For now, podcasts aren’t a massive industry -- they generate less than $1 billion a year in ad sales in the U.S., according to the Interactive Advertising Bureau.

But the market’s growth potential has helped propel Spotify’s shares this year, sending them up 85 per cent.