return Home

TED: Food for thought for millions

For those who believe in the power of ideas, 2006 marked an inspiring moment in the digital space. It was the online debut of a rapidly growing collection of brief, well-choreographed, expertly lit and precisely paced lectures, or ‘talks’. They were focused at the intersection of technology, entertainment and design and are now well-known worldwide as TED. What has happened in the 10 years to follow, from 2006 to 2016? A lot. 

TED 1 ()

When describing TED as a human network that ‘connects the idea-hungry elite’, Fast Company hit a nerve. But it’s not just about the elite anymore. The TED slogan, ‘ideas worth spreading’, has fueled a ravenous fascination and TED’s expanding footprint over the last decade has much to teach us. It is a unique case study: a non-profit that successfully transformed the generic keynote speech into a worldwide movement.

Consider a few figures for background. Six years after unleashing TED talks online, hit one billion views. This was just a preview of the spectacular surge to come. From 2012 to 2015, tripled the number of views to reach three billion. With 2,400 videos online today, the global appetite for TED is nothing short of insatiable.

Highly nutritional food for thought

‘What sets TED Talks apart is that the big ideas are wrapped up in personal stories and they're mostly from people you have never heard of before,’ said Charlie Rose in a 60 Minutes episode exploring TED’s unusual value proposition. ‘And it is those stories that have captured the imaginations of tens of millions of viewers around the world.’

Taking a closer look, TED is both non-profit and big business with a hearty following in both the digital and physical world. The original one-off conference, launched in 1984, continues to influence TEDGlobal. International luminaries, innovative thinkers and thought leaders convene to make a case, take a stand, or deliver an ingenious, credible and forward-looking talk—in 18 minutes or less.

TED 2 ()

Today, TED talks represent all professions, fields of study and practice, schools of thought and social causes, from heady issues such as climate change and global health challenges to the esoteric entomology of zombie roaches and other parasite tales (1.3 million views). TED speakers include legends—astronauts, billionaires and former presidents—and unknown researchers, artists and community leaders. Bill Clinton, Bill Gates and Sheryl Sandberg have shared the TED spotlight with obscure talent such as brain researcher, Jill Bolte Taylor, whose account of witnessing her own stroke catapulted her to the TED hall of fame—18.6 million views.

Serving up a feast for the mind and for the masses

Do schools kill creativity? Perhaps. But more important, education expert Sir Ken Robinson’s 2006 TED video has clocked more than 37 million views. In terms of online traffic, this figure alone goes a long way to undo any doubts that initially surfaced when, in 2006, TED leaders decided to shift the business model and expand the tent beyond the wealthy and well-connected, to include anyone with internet access.

‘There was a lot of skepticism’, June Cohen, executive director of TED media, told CNN. ‘People worried that it might capsize our business model because we were running an expensive, somewhat elite conference.' 

Far from capsizing, the online platform gave TED transformational lift. With steady traffic clocking 80 million monthly video views, 15 million of which are unique visitors, TED is no longer a source of skepticism but instead boasts demographics so many marketers crave. TED talks viewers are educated, 71 per cent college graduates, and nearly half, 47 per cent, are high-caliber, C-suite professionals. Talks translated in 105 languages translates into truly global reach. The greatest regional growth in visits, from Q4 2013 to Q42014, was in the Middle East (77 per cent), followed by Australia and New Zealand (70 per cent) and then Europe (70 per cent).

Spreading TED

TED radio hour ()

If Starbucks is ubiquitous, TED is pervasive. You can access TED on your smartphone or tablet, on YouTube, on NPR radio—The TED Radio Hour—as a podcast on iTunes, on Hulu and, until recently, Netflix. TED also developed an app that has been downloaded more than 24 million times.

Through an initiative called TEDx, designed to help communities, organisations and individuals to spark conversation and connection through local TED-like experiences,’ the tent expanded exponentially, planting stakes in unexpected locales. Close to 50,000 talks have been given at 10,000 events in at least 160 countries worldwide since the program launched in 2009. In 2015, TEDx arrived in Cuba for the first time and claimed a stage in the infamous Sing Sing prison in New York. 

In its three decades, TED’s mission has been to link millions across the globe. Sharing his takeaway from the recent 2016 conference in Vancouver, author Carmine Gallo echoes Charlie Rose’s assessment: Stories have the power to shape our lives and the lives of our listeners,’ he wrote in Forbes. Examining the talks that tend to go viral, Gallo sees a common denominator: they are deeply personal and revealing, fertile ground for connecting with a growing audience.

More like this

Scout: The crossroads of a tech-enabled future, journalism and sci-fi

Sit up and listen: Podcasting is the disruptive force in the mediasphere

The public takes a seat at the editor’s desk

  • Magazine brands shopping into the future with visual search

    Consumer-facing publishers may soon be adding visual search to their e-commerce offerings, if visual search takes off. Outlined by Jenny Griffiths, founder and CEO of Snap Tech, at the Digital Innovator’s Summit in Berlin March 20, technologies like Snap Tech may change the way the world shops, which would be especially valuable for publishers.

    20th Mar 2018 Features
  • Deep dive: Subscription models… If you build it, will they come?

    With countless publishing brands battling to maintain cash-flow and build a solid business model, many are pinning their hopes on building subscription businesses. During this week’s Digital Innovators’ Summit (DIS) in Berlin the topic proved to be a recurring theme.

    20th Mar 2018 Features
  • Deep dive: The shift from quantity to quality - two examples from tech based publishers

    Throughout DIS 2018 representatives of companies from across the globe have taken to the stage to share their insights about how they are growing their businesses. For the mid morning segment on the second day, execs from two tech based companies, both of whom have a very strong print heritage, explained how they had adapted their business models and where they are likely to venture to in the future. They both constantly referenced premium quality content as being at the core of their strategy.

    20th Mar 2018 Features
  • How voice-activated devices create opportunities for publishers

    As voice-activated devices and services become more ubiquitous, new opportunities are opening up for publishers to reach users. On day two of the Digital Innovators’ Summit in Berlin, Alexander Bregman, Strategic Partner Development Manager at Google EMEA, explained how the combination of Google Assistant and the rise of smart speakers could lead to great partnerships with publishers in the very near future.

    20th Mar 2018 Features


Visit our Youtube channel



FIPP newsletters allow you to keep up with industry trends, research, training and events across the world



Get global coverage of your launches, company news and innovations


Upcoming @ FIPP

What’s happening now, what’s coming next

Go to Full Site