Tuesday, 25 June 2013

A brush with mortality

Saturday was a big day for the Rileys. To be followed by another big day on Sunday.

On Saturday Jean and I were hosting a charity sporting dinner at Matt's school. 250 parents and friends were coming. I had organised the quiz, silent auction and guest speaker. Jean had sorted catering, the raffle, tables, money etc. As I said - a big day. Sunday was Free Radio's Warwickshire "Walk for Kids", one of our regular radio station charity walks. This was our "home town" walk too - and a bunch of friends were walking with us - and of course the station would be out in force to make sure all the walkers had a good time and raised lots of cash.

But first the Saturday charity dinner. Lots of early prep came to a halt at 11, as we settled down to watch the first Lions test.

Half time came, and Jean nipped out to pick up some last minute items for the dinner. She called from the car ".....lots of neighbours have the flags out - union jacks - we should put ours up....."

Now I realise the Union Jack is not quite the right flag for the British and Irish lions - but its the thought that counts. So, game paused, I went out into the garden. We live in a big house, with an even bigger garden. The flagpole was there when we bought the house, and we do stick a St Georges Cross or Union Jack up for big sporting events. I grabbed the flag from the shed and proceeded to hoist it. At this point it got stuck and I needed to go back to the house to grab a step ladder to untangle it.

Back with the ladder...... Just up a few feet ........ stretch up to grab the flag ......a gust of wind ...... slightly knocking me off balance ........ the stepladder shifts slightly as one of the legs sinks into a spot of soft ground ........ I lose my balance ever so slightly ......... I grab the flagpole to keep myself upright as I fall off the ladder....... I sink to the floor still holding on to the pole, only a few feet down........I realise I have a sharp pain in my forearm.......and I look up to see my forearm skewered on the cleat, the metal prong which you loop the rope around........I am well and truly skewered too, and have to physically lift my arm off the cleat as I get back up on my feet.

I then look at my forearm. It is completely ripped open, exposing tendons, muscle, bone etc. It's a truism in life that if you can see your insides, you are not in a good place. I was not in a good place.

That scene in The Terminator, where Arnie slices open his forearm - it was just like that, except there were no steel rods or cables exposed - just tendons and bones - I was mortifyingly human - and really exposed.

Not much blood though, I thought, as I gingerly grabbed my left arm in my right hand and walked quickly back to the house, hoping I wouldn't faint, or trip, as I went inside.

I shouted for Matt, and in I'm sure slightly overexcited tones asked him to call 999 and his mum "...I'm not in a good place here son..." I said, as I sat down, put a tea towel round my exposed flesh and thought of the many horrible outcomes that could befall me.

Jean got back in around 10 minutes. She looked as shocked as I felt. I've fallen off my bike a few times, incurring cuts and bruises, but this was something potentially far more serious, and we both knew it.

Keith and Kirsty were the paramedics who arrived shortly after. Keith an experienced, calm health professional. Kirsty younger, learning the ropes. Keith calmed me down and tested my fingers and wrist for damage.

Amazingly, there didn't seem to be anything wrong mechanically. In what must rank as one of the luckiest escapes ever, I appeared to have missed slicing anything important. I could squeeze, push etc - although actually being able to see the tendons moving was hugely unnerving. At this point I just looked away. "Right..." said Keith "...if you want, we can sew you up here..."

"Go for it" I said. And so Keith and Kirsty proceeded to put 16 stitches into my arm on my dining room table, in full view of my wife and son, at 12.30pm on an otherwise unremarkable Saturday afternoon.

Out came the "Gas and Air" so frequently given to expectant mums starting childbirth. You women have kept this secret from us blokes for too long! Within seconds I was high as a kite. We were laughing and joking with each other as the sutures went in - nothing had ever seemed as funny as falling off that ladder, slicing my arm open, leaving the flag half erected. I laughed so much we needed a second tank of the gas! Or was it because putting 16 stitches into a nine inch long wound just took so long?

1.30, and Keith and Kirsty were gone. I might have some strong views on how we organise and pay for the NHS - but I've never doubted the professionalism of those who work in its ranks - and Keith and Kirsty lived up to every ideal we like to imagine the NHS strives for - cool, calm, courteous, professional, and good. Life savers.

2pm - dosed up with codeine, I am contemplating what this means.

In the short term, it means I can get the charity dinner sorted, which Jean and I do, me through gritted teeth and more painkillers. Never has a fun evening seemed so long and arduous! We raised £12,000 though, to help rebuild a school in Christchurch in NZ devastated by their recent earthquake. Job done, we left just after midnight - as bone tired as we've ever been.

Sunday was our Free Radio "Walk for Kids". I was planning to walk it - as I have walked every one we have ever done so far. I was in no shape though, so Matt stepped in and did it for me. I did go along to cheer everyone off - and many of the real walkers must have looked askance at the tall chap in the official green jacket who looked like he was missing an arm! I will do it though, later in the Summer - I'm not going to have that blot on my copybook.

During that first two days, everyone I met, at the dinner and on the walk, told me I looked pale and shocked. And that's because I was - and I still am if I'm honest.

Given how tightly I was gripping the flagpole, completely unaware of the damage I was about to do, I was maybe half an inch away from tearing into muscle and/or tendon, severely damaging my left, dominant arm, causing me a lifetime of pain and inconvenience. More worryingly, I was also half an inch from tearing open my Radial or Ulnar artery. And that's what haunts me. I could easily have bled out, lying by a stupid flag pole, on an otherwise perfectly normal, boring Saturday, with no-one knowing quite where I was, my wife out doing errands, my son a few hundred yards away, watching rugby on the TV.

It isn't very often you come that close to your own mortality and live to tell the tale - but I did. That image, of me lying there, bleeding out, has been in my dreams for a couple of nights, but thankfully is receding. I will get over this, and will fully recover I'm sure. Writing this down and sharing it is part of that recovery process. But I understand just a little more now how folk can easily get post-traumatic stress disorder, even when people tell them how lucky they are to have survived a car accident, or industrial injury etc. it's the thought of what might have been, how close you came to something far worse, that lives on in your mind.

I do feel lucky, incredibly so. In fact, for an arch-rationalist, I did the unheard of on Sunday, and bought a Euro millions lottery ticket. I'll let you know if I win!

Quite how Jean, Matt and Alex (who came back from work helping set up for the Walk when Jean called her) coped with the blood and gore unfolding on their dining room table is beyond me.

Even more mortifying for me was the thought that had something terrible happened to me, Jean would have blamed herself for making the phone call about the flag. We had a heart to heart about that late on Saturday night.

So my three takeaways from my brush with mortality are:

  1. You need to tell those you care about that you love them as often as possible.
  2. You need to take care on ladders - and never get on one on your own if you can help it. There are thousands of serious accidents in this country every year, and dozens of deaths, from falling from height. I am glad I am one of the former rather than latter.
  3. We all need to be grateful we live in a country where you can make a call, and in 15 minutes someone like Keith can come by and potentially save your life.

He's given me a bloody big scar though - I'm going to have to invent a more dramatic back-story than falling off a ladder.

Here are the pictures - take a deep breath.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Should we be worried about Apple

There's a lot of talk on-line about the imminent launch of "iRadio" or some such name for a new streamed music service from Apple. This follows fast on the heels of Google's "Music All Access" announcement

We've been here before of course - services like Pandora and Rhapsody in the states, and Spotify/last FM/We7 over here in Europe have been operating various forms of streaming music services for some time.

The concern being expressed is the impact of a launch of a streamed music service from someone with the market power of Apple or Google. Then there's the rumour that Amazon will follow suit! That's an awful lot of streamed music services, many of them from big players with lots of knowledge about us and our purchasing/browsing/music consumption habits.

The two issues I see are as follows

Will this plethora of services eat into traditional radio audiences?

Can they make money - and if so will this cannibalise traditional radio revenues?

Dealing with each in turn - I have said repeatedly that I don't believe customised, streamed music delivery is radio. It may, at the margins, take some consumer time away from radio consumption, but I believe it is much more likely to be a substitute for existing music consumption via CD/MP3 players or other devices. Pandora is the most entrenched service in the US, and whilst it claims to be "Radio" it isn't really - read this great analysis from Mark Barber to understand why - but even Pandora is only claiming a tiny fraction of the cume/TSL of traditional radio. Will more and more of these services grow TSL to streamed music - sure, to a degree, but cannibalisation of existing streamed services is more likely.

Of course I could be wrong - but even music intensive radio stations offer far more than a streamed set of tracks. Brand values, companionship, personality, interaction, news/traffic and other utility functions all make the user experience of listening to a radio station completely different in my view. And radio is ubiquitous, and free. The opportunity for listeners to consume streaming audio is also more limited, either because of the lack of proximity to internet access in certain places where radio is available, or just the cost if accessing on a mobile device. Radio has consistently faced challenges from other, newer media, but its ease of access, versatility and variety, information delivery and companionship features have consistently allowed it to co-exist alongside new entrants. I don't believe streaming music is an existential threat to that co-existence.

More critically - can these streaming services make money - and will this impact radio revenues. Well, a little bit of maths is in order here - so bear with me. A radio service listened to by 1,000 people in any particular hour could theoretically charge £2 for a 30" spot at prevailing commercial rates. So assuming 20 spots per hour (10 minutes) it could generate £40 of income for each 1,000 listeners. Or 4p per listener.

Apple is rumoured to have struck a deal with the major labels to pay them 0.16c per track played according to this article in Business Matters. Assuming 13/14 tracks per hour that's a 2c recording rights cost per listener per hour. Now that's just for the recording rights. Publishing rights are likely to double that cost to 4c per listener hour. That's about a 3p cost to Apple for every hour someone consumes their steaming service in UK currency.

So if that's what Apple are paying just for the music rights, and they also have to cover all of the infrastructure/technical costs of their service, run sales teams (as Pandora do I understand) and make a profit, they are going to have to generate a significant premium to the 3p they are already paying out every hour someone might listen to them.

Maybe 10p would cover everything and allow them to make a profit. But that's 2 to 3 times what traditional radio is making for every listener hour. And we are running 20 ad spot loads - could any streaming service interrupt its music for that heavy an ad-load - I doubt it. Maybe 5/6 ads tops I would think. So really they are likely to require spot prices getting on for 10 times more costly in terms of cpt to make their revenues stack up.

Ah, I hear you say - but they've got all this data, so can sell spots at higher value. Possibly - but Radio isn't a classified medium, so ads have to be made - and sold. And that's expensive. I can't see the Google ad model of text ads in search (or as pop ups on screen in you tube) being converted to audio-based streaming services.

Subscription might work, and certainly Pandora and others are trying this. I'm not sure if the labels would want even higher rates if subscriptions are involved, but this might be a way for these services to monetise their audience.

I just can't see the ad-supported business model though. They've got to sell all those ads, every hour, because they are being charged for every stream. And with Apple vs Google vs Amazon vs Pandora etc, the competition for ad revenues for this type of service will become pretty fierce pretty quickly.

Might this lead to massive downward pressure on radio rates. Well actually, the reverse might be the case - certainly these services will have to charge cpts much, much higher than we do - so maybe we'll get dragged up (!) It's worth also pointing out that a very high percentage of our income now comes from campaigns where sponsorship or promotion or brand advocacy is an essential part of the mix. A straight spot only campaign is becoming rarer on radio - and SPI/Brand Advocacy is pretty near impossible on a streamed service. So I think our revenue base can be largely protected - but for sure some advertisers will try streaming services, so we mustn't be complacent.

Will these services be disruptive - yes.

Do they spell the death-knell for radio - I don't think so.