Although its $50 billion App Store stats might be a little sexier, Apple has announced a major milestone for that forgotten child of iTunes - podcasting.

According to Apple, there are now more than a billion active podcast subscriptions being run through its software.

Those subscriptions are spread across 250,000 shows, in more than 100 languages and with 8 million individual episodes published.

Podcasting was developed in the early 2000s after a series of innovations made it possible for RSS readers to automatically download enclosed MP3 files.

But it was only when a built-in directory of downloadable 'radio' shows came to Apple's iTunes in 2005, and major broadcasters like the BBC launched their own podcasts, that the idea really began to take off.

Now the medium is firmly established - both as a way for mainstream networks to distribute their shows, and for independent producers to build their voice and audience - such as comedian Richard Herring, who recently hit the headlines after Stephen Fry discussed a 2012 suicide attempt in an episode of Herring's Sony Award-winning Leicester Square Theatre Podcast.

Herring's 'Me 1 Vs Me 2 Snooker' podcast, in which he plays himself at billiards, is a little more niche, but arguably represents the diversity of podcasting with equal panache.

Apple said that podcasts have "transformed the global media landscape".

To celebrate the milestone it has highlighted some of its favourites in the iTunes store, including The Bugle with Andy Zaltzman and John Oliver, the BBC's 'Friday Night Comedy' podcast and 'The Shed' produced by the National Theatre.

Podcasts are not exclusive to iTunes, however, and are also downloaded using many other apps and services, meaning that the total number of subscriptions is likely far higher than the billion touted by Apple.

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