Machine Translation and ASR Provider AppTek Buys Speech Tech Firm Ignite-Tek

The company names are already a close match. And on November 19, 2019, language technology provider AppTek acquired Ignite-Tek, a speech transcription and technology company also based in the US.

Virginia, US-based AppTek’s core offering is providing machine translation (MT) and automatic speech recognition (ASR) to media entertainment customers and call centers. Ignite-Tek is a long-term partner of AppTek and was founded more than 10 years ago.

AppTek Co-founder and CEO Mudar Yaghi told Slator that buying Ignite-Tek will expand their natural language understanding (NLU) capabilities and will help AppTek strengthen its relationships with call center customers. Former Ignite-Tek CEO Mike Ferzacca will take on the COO role in the combined organization and Yaghi will continue on as CEO.

Yaghi declined to share any financial metrics, but said AppTek doubled its headcount in 2019. AppTek has been rebuilding its team over the past few years. The company was down to just a handful of FTEs in 2015 after eBay absorbed a number of employees as part of a deal to acquire a significant part of the AppTek business, including MT capabilities.

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Today, Yaghi says AppTek works with a pool of more than 1,000 annotators, who process data that is then used to train AppTek’s own language models. For larger projects, they partner with language service providers (LSPs) for transcription services. Unlike Australian-listed language data giant Appen’s model, AppTek’s data is kept for internal use and not normally sold to customers.

Media Entertainment and Call Centers 

One of AppTek’s two primary customer segments is media entertainment. Yaghi told Slator they “support virtually any type of content inside the [Media and Entertainment] industry,” offering MT and ASR for content ranging from news articles and talk shows to sports programming and cinematic feature-length titles.

AppTek offers line segmentation technology that is based on the syntax and semantics of subtitled lines. This is designed to improve the readability of MT output and generate subtitles that are “closer to what a professional would produce,” Yaghi said. AppTek also partners with LSPs and media localizers to offer both same-language captioning and multilingual subtitling solutions to customers.

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Increasing volumes of video content are not only a boon to media localizers, but are also driving demand for machine translation and speech recognition, Yaghi said. In addition, they see growing demand from customers for metadata management, which relies heavily on language data capabilities. Metadata allows content owners to retrieve content from their media asset management (MAM) systems, which store vast, ever-expanding archives.

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Away from the world of media entertainment, call center customers use AppTek’s ASR and MT technology to help their staff understand foreign speech. Natural language understanding (NLU) technology is also used by call center customers to map customer sentiment during a call. This is done by evaluating “tone, pitch, and prosody,” Yaghi said, and can help to improve the customer experience.

According to Yaghi, the acquisition of Ignite-Tek should help further expand AppTek’s NLU offering. Ignite-Tek offers transcription technology and provides insights into customer experience based on sentiment.