In (partial) defence of “dadcasting”

Nick Hilton
8 min readFeb 5, 2024


The Rest is Politics co-hosts, Rory Stewart (L) and Alastair Campbell (R)

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It’s always interesting to me, as a podcast professional, when a piece of writing about the industry breaks out of our closed network. And that happened this week with a piece in The Guardian titled ‘Welcome to the age of the ‘dadcast’: ubiquitous, lucrative — and a bit boring’.

Authored by Archie Bland — who sounds like the ineffectual middle son in an Evelyn Waugh novel, but is actually the excellent writer of the Guardian’s influential First Edition newsletter — it charts the rise of a specific form of middle-aged, blokey discussion show here in the UK. There are two major case studies: The Rest is Politics, in which former Tory MP Rory Stewart and Labour spin doctor Alastair Campbell dissect political trends, and Political Currency, which replicates the formula, albeit with George Osborne, the former chancellor, and Ed Balls, the man who was never actually chancellor, thanks to Ed Miliband’s bacon sarnie.

The contention — a correct one — is that the landscape in British political podcasting is becoming dominated by shows authored by political insiders who no longer have skin in the game. They are usually men, usually within a few degrees of the centre ground of politics, and generally people who are looking to rehabilitate their legacy (or “reputation-launder”, as Bland puts it). The daddy of these shows is The Rest is Politics, which is produced independently by Goalhanger podcasts, a company part-owned by Match of the Day anchor Gary Lineker. Stewart and Campbell were, in a way, an unlikely combo. Stewart was coming off the back of a feeble tilt at the London mayoralty, while Campbell’s standing within the Left has been shaky since the Iraq war. But they were men with strong — fractionally differing — opinions, and they had instant chemistry. And so the “dadcast” was born, and there have been a number of attempts to replicate this lucrative formula.

“There is something deadening about the way it reveals the podcast market to be going,” Bland writes. “Call it commercial maturity or capitalism’s bleakly inevitable assimilation of all cultural forms, the conclusion is the same.” And this is where I feel like the piece in The Guardian falls short. It identifies a trend, sure, and does something all good journalists aspire to do: it names it. But it is doesn’t address two crucial questions. Why? and, what else?

The “why” question is vital here. Why, when so much of political broadcasting has been in a long-term recession, have we seen the growth of a very specific sort of product? What is it doing that — to pick an example at random — The Guardian isn’t?

The truth is that we are not living through an age of political polarisation, but political tridentation (if anyone knows a better word for the splitting into three camps, please write in). At least in terms of access to potential markets. If you want to make money in political media, right now, you have three options. Pander to the far-right, where there is access to shadowy, slightly murky private donors. There are a handful of culture wars cause célèbres that will always turn up cash if you’re willing to take them on. Or, you can go for the far-left market, where you’ll find plenty of engagement. The difficulty is turning that into revenue, but the crowdfunding, micro-payment model (along with a lot of cost-cutting on production) has served a lot of leftist broadcasts well.

But the third prong of the trident is probably the simplest. Shoot for the market who are still energised by Britain leaving the European Union. Europe has become the animating ideal of a host of very online, very middle class people who are willing to entertain centre-right or centre-left political discussion on issues like geopolitics or macroeconomics, so long as there is an agreed sense that most ills can be blamed on Brexit. This is the pitch that the “dadcast” makes, and it’s a much more profitable pitch than, say, Triggonometry or Novara Media. And because it’s more profitable, there’s more money to re-invest in audience development, and so the wheel keeps turning. Podcasting, like so much hype generated media, is a sort-of perpetual motion machine: the better a show is doing, the better it will do, and, as a result, the better it does.

So “what else” becomes the next question. I share Bland’s basic sense that the rise of the “dadcast” is not really a good thing for political conversation in this country. Excepting The Rest is Politics — because it is the show that the others are trying to imitate — these podcasts present a homogenous and unchallenging vision for Britain. A bit of banter, a bit of analysis, maybe a bit of humorous wrist-slapping for policies enacting during your time in government. Something about the dispassionate, coolly analytical task of journalism seems to be getting lost. And the rise of the “dadcast” does come at a cost: research suggests that in the US, most regular podcast listeners average somewhere between 4 and 8 episodes per week. It had previously been suggested that most podcast listeners remain loyal to only 4 or 5 shows at a time. Which means there is limited audience bandwidth; if you’re listening to a couple of episodes of The Rest is Politics per week, and a couple of episodes of Political Currency, there’s a lot of stuff you’re not listening to. Stuff, I suspect, like podcasts produced by The Guardian.

So what else should podcasts be doing? There are structural issues in place that mean it’s hard to fund any show that isn’t getting 10,000+ listens per episode, which, here in the UK, would put you in the top 1% of all podcasts and the top 0.1% of news podcasts. It’s a small, under-funded market, and one that has responded to the tridentation of politics by creating a three-tier system. The Rest is Politics and News Agents and Political Currency and Pod Save the UK and Oh God, What Now? in the middle prong; The Brendan O’Neill Show and Triggernometry and UnHerd on the right tine, with Novara Live and The Owen Jones Podcast and Trashfuture on the left. Across the board, the mainstream, institutional podcasts are struggling. The Guardian — who, after all, are the ones calling out “dadcasts” — have focused on a daily podcast in the mould of the New York Times’s The Daily, called Today in Focus. Their current affairs analysis show, Politics Weekly, is, at time of writing, №27 in the charts — way below both its rivals and The Guardian’s political salience.

But The Guardian’s difficulties are mirrored by its peers. The Telegraph’s highest charting political podcast right now is Ukraine: The Latest at №16, but its flagship political podcast, Chopper’s Politics, ended in November and has yet to be replaced. The Times — which, thanks to TimesRadio, now has an enormous audio machine — doesn’t have a political analysis show higher than №25, Matt Chorley’s Politics Without the Boring Bits. In fact, the breakdown of the Top 10 podcasts in the “News” category on Apple Podcasts looks like this: two shows (The Rest is Politics and Leading) made by Goalhanger Podcasts, three shows (The News Agents, The News Agents USA and Political Currency) made by Persephonica for Global, daily briefing podcasts from The Guardian, the FT, and the BBC, and two podcasts — a true crime doc from the FT, and Fi Glover and Jane Garvey’s Times Radio show — that look to me like they’re mis-categorised. It is a samey Top 10, but quite an independent one.

The conclusion to Bland’s piece says that this emergent phenomenon is “in danger of building a world where podcasts are exactly like everything else: chat format. High volume. Always on.” Which is a totally valid position to take, as a podcast listener (though “dadcasts” are also very avoidable, and there’s plenty of political programming that employs more unusual formats…). But as a businessperson or a publisher, it is hard. “High volume” and “always on” is the essential model of the newspaper industry. Indeed, outside the world of literary fiction or prestige cinema, it’s basically how the entire media is run. Why should podcasts be different to “everything else”?

Because it started in people’s spare bedrooms, their basements or garages, there is a tendency to feel betrayed that podcasting has ended up “like everything else”. We are the sort of sell-outs that Gen X feared. But while a future where podcasting did something different, stayed true to its roots, is nice to imagine, it’s hardly realistic in one of the roughest media climates of the past several decades. In order to build a coherent and successful audio brand, you need to do precisely the two things that Bland laments: i) build a big audience, and ii) generate a big output.

Do they always need to be “chat shows”? This is an almost ideological question, where The Guardian, as a purveyor of a daily show utilising the short documentary format (the same as the New York Times) has a dog in the fight. For my own part, I think its a false binary. Would it be nice if teenage boys watched both The Zone of Interest and Guardians of the Galaxy? Sure. But in reality they’re not competing in the same marketplace, just as Graham Norton’s chat show isn’t up against Panorama. The audience for “dadcasts” want something specific. A bit of gossip, a bit of banter, a bit of analysis. I’m not sure that a de-chattified format can provide that. The question really is whether you can expand the habit, push people from chat shows to more quality programming, use an increased interest in nuanced political discussion as a gateway drug to more diverse offerings. After all, most adult cinephiles spent their formative years watching Porkies or Jaws II.

But there are big structural things that mean the always-on chat show is here to stay. As Bland notes, this is what happens when an insurgent medium reaches maturity and is shoehorned into the conventions of capitalism. Slowly but surely, podcasting is shedding its skin of unprofitability and focusing on the red meat of quickfire, cheap-to-produce content that gains significant audiences. Whether you use that audience to sell advertising or build a paywalled community makes no difference; the route to profitability still has the same road markings. It causes me a near-physical pain to say it, but you should expect to see fewer and fewer documentary podcasts produced in the coming years.

Shortly after The Guardian piece was published, I received a text from one of the hosts of a show that my company, Podot, makes. The host had just read the piece and rather than being concerned that we might, ourselves, be slipping into “dadcast” territory, they wanted to text me with the suggestion that we might try and sell the show to “these Goalhanger people”. And that’s the nub of it: you can write a column identifying a trend and labelling it as destructive, but if you also note that it’s an expeditious route to riches and influence, then all you’ll do is reinforce it. Because, as William Wordsworth wrote, “the Child is father of the Man”, and with money and power at stake, we’re all just kiddos on our way to a “dadcasting” future.

Want to try listening to something that isn’t a dadcast? Try a new show I’m producing, The Election Tricycle. This week’s episode is below.



Nick Hilton

Writer. Media entrepreneur. London. Interested in technology and the media. Co-founder Email: