Hiroko Masuike for The New York Times
June Cohen, director of TED Media, said putting conference presentations on the Internet helped increase exposure.
By BOB TEDESCHI
Published: April 16, 2007
THOSE who don’t have $6,000 or enough prominent connections to get into a TED conference can take heart. The price of admission just went to zero, provided you can settle for a more remote experience.
The TED organization (TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design) runs an invitation-only conference in Monterey, Calif., every year for movers and shakers in business and nonprofit circles.
Yesterday, TED introduced a Web site that offers about 100 of its TED Talks, the polished 20-minute presentations for which the conference is renowned.
The new site will generate more advertising revenue for TED, but more important, conference leaders said, it will expose TED’s content to millions of people who would otherwise never attend the event.
In so doing, TED is at the vanguard of a trend in the conference industry, where organizers have begun to exploit assets that in years past evaporated as soon as speakers left the stage.
“I’m so struck by it anytime I’m at a great event,” said June Cohen, director of media for TED, a nonprofit business based in New York. “That was so wonderful, but now it’s gone. It’s a shame they’re not captured and preserved.”
Ms. Cohen said TED’s organizers began posting last June a handful of free videos from past conferences on TED.com, with “fairly aggressive goals for how I thought they’d do. But we blew past those pretty quickly.” By January, the number of TED Talks on the site had grown to 44, and they had been viewed more than three million times.
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Based on that success, Ms. Cohen said that the organization pumped
hundreds of thousands of dollars into its video production operations
and into the development of a Web site to showcase about 100 of the
The presentations are arranged thematically on the site’s home page.
For example, visitors can browse on “Spectacular Performance” to find
one of 11 TED presentations chosen for the category by TED editors
(like a piano improvisation by the 14-year old prodigy Jennifer Lin in
2004), or find 22 TED Talks roughly related to “The Rise of
“We’re creating a TED experience online,” Ms. Cohen said, “and that’s
not about watching a single talk, but watching several in succession
that relate to each other in unexpected ways.”
With the new site, each presentation has its own Web page that includes
an overview of the Talk, a biography of the speaker, comments from
users, links to related Web pages and a way to rate the presentation
that differs from conventional methods. Users choose three
characteristics from a list that includes “long winded” and
“courageous,” among others.
Three of the more than 50 presentations from last month’s conference,
including high-definition video of former President Bill Clinton’s
speech, are featured on the new site.
From a business standpoint, Ms. Cohen said that giving away the
conference’s content in such a highly polished manner has “completely
transformed” the organization.
“Conventional business logic would tell you that in a community like
TED you have to keep your commodity scarce and expensive to retain
brand value,” she said. “But the same year we started releasing most of
our content for free we raised our conference price by nearly 50
percent and still sold out in 12 days.”
“This has actually created a huge challenge for us, in how to manage
our growth,” Ms. Cohen added. “We have a waiting list of a couple
thousand people for the event and we can’t grow it more. So the
question is how to expand it in other ways and do more online.”
Jack Pitney, head of marketing for BMW of North America, said visits to
the company’s Web site have jumped strongly in the last year, to about
1.7 million people a month. “That’s due to a confluence of a lot of
things, but the TED Talks certainly contributed to a lot more people
coming to the site,” he said.
Of the 11,000 or so trade shows and corporate events each year in the
United States, about 10 percent in the last year have begun to use
videos from their shows to generate more revenue, according to Darlene
Gudea, publisher of Trade Show Executive Magazine, an industry
publication. “Show organizers are realizing that only part of the
industry comes to a trade show, leaving a lot of educational
opportunities, and revenues, on the table,” Ms. Gudea said.
And trade shows themselves are a booming business. According to a
recent report from American Business Media, a business-to-business
media industry group, revenue from trade shows last year grew by 10
percent, to $11.3 billion, and for the first time exceeded revenue from
One example of a company that is capitalizing on the trend is Reed
Exhibitions, a unit of Reed Elsevier, which organizes about 60
large-scale conferences in the United States each year. Two weeks ago,
Reed introduced out ISC365.com, a site devoted to ISC West, an Internet
security conference held in March in Las Vegas.
In a test that could eventually extend to all of the company’s events,
Reed will soon begin posting videos from some of the roughly 90
sessions held during the three-day event on ISC365.com. Dean Russo, a
Reed Exhibitions group vice president who oversees the company’s
Internet activities, said subscribers would pay about $300 to $350 to
download five of those videos. Other sessions, he said, would be
supported by advertising and will be offered free.
Mr. Russo said that about 25,000 people attended ISC West, and about
1,200 paid $400 to $1000 to attend educational sessions. “We’re
thinking in the first six months we could bring in at least that many
people with the online subscription, and it could potentially be many,
many times that,” he said.
Depending on the objectives of the conference speakers, that approach
could meet little resistance. Those who earn a living speaking on the
conference circuit may have to negotiate different agreements with
trade shows that seek to capitalize on those speeches in perpetuity.
But for others, like the New Yorker writer Malcolm Gladwell, the exposure is enough payment.
Mr. Gladwell, who spoke at the 2004 TED conference, said his talk was
“a riff that was taken from a New Yorker piece just before it came out.
Certainly more people have read that story as a result of my talk being
online. If I can get people to read my stuff more, that’s all a plus.”