Founded in February 1984, TED is a non-profit organization that is devoted to spread ideas to the world, usually in the form of talks. From its origin, TED business model was simple, generate value by spreading new ideas that seek a deeper understanding of the world. TED believed that “ideas have the power to change attitudes, lives and ultimately the world”, so it is worth spreading them around an influential community that can continue spreading them around the world. Its initial emphasis was technology, entertainment and design (actually that is the origin of the acronym “TED”), but it has since broadened its focus to include talks on many scientific, cultural, academic and many other topics.
Its initial operating model was to create a conference that every year would bring together influential people from different backgrounds to listen and debate over new ideas, presented by scientists, philosophers, musicians, business and religious leaders, philanthropists and many others in an 18-minute talk format. The conference was by invitation only and each assistant had to pay the entrance fee, which by 2007 was around $6,000.
It was only in 2007, after 24 years of operations, that Chris Anderson, TED CEO, saw an opportunity in the digital world to expand its mission: to broadcast each Talk and broaden the conference’s reach. After being rejected several times when trying to make a TV show based on TED lectures, Anderson finally decided to launch its own website, Ted.com, featuring free videos of the most interesting TED Talks so far. In so doing, TED positioned at the vanguard of a trend in the conference industry. Before TED.com, speakers would only talk one time and after that their message would disappear, only reaching a limited amount of people, whereas now all Talks could be captured and preserved. TED.com immediately exposed TED’s content to millions of people who otherwise would have never attended to the physical event. In addition to this, the site generated more advertising revenue for TED.
With this, TED developed a “freemium” pricing model, in which in the free tier would allow users to watch all the Talks, read the authors biographies, make comments and interact as a community. On the paid tier, users could buy the annual membership, which would allow them to attend to the conference, receive Talks in DVD, Book Club and other benefits. Image 1, shows the evolution of views in TED.com.
By 2015 TED had more than 2,000 Talks posted. Advertising revenue allowed TED to, invested in better quality videos and new products such as TED Active, a simulcast version TED Conference; TED Global, an international version of the conference; TEDx, independent TED-like events created by individuals, communities or worldwide organizations; TED Radio, bringing ideas and stories from TED Talks to public radio listeners; TED-Ed, animated video lessons; TED Books, original books that expanded TED Talks topics; TED Prize, a US$1m award, given annually to an exceptional individuals; TED Fellows, an global network of people that collaborates across disciplines to create positive change; and TED Institute, helping organizations unlock institutional knowledge. TED also expanded its video broadcasting to the mobile world, creating a TED app for smartphones and tablets. Image 2 shows the different products that TED has created.
TED is currently funded through a combination of conference ticket, sponsorships, advertisements, private donations and book sales. Sponsors varied from companies like Google to General Electric and Goldman Sachs. There are also partnerships with brands like Apple and Netflix, making TED Talks even more accessible.
As we can see, TED chose the perfect moment to embrace its digital transformation, which allowed them to go beyond their initial mission and really foster the spread of great ideas. It is clear the impact that TED has over the democratization of knowledge and information, but what else can they do? Can TED go further in its purpose? Can they take the next step from knowledge distribution to knowledge creation? One alternative could be to invest more funds in the creation of knowledge through more initiatives like TED Prize or giving scholarships to researchers. Another alternative could be to go further and integrate its distribution service with learning institutions (i.e. Teach for America). Can TED help the less-developed communities to move forward by making information and education more accessible?. The role of free and accessible information can be crucial for the development of economically underprivileged communities and TED could leverage on its platform to enable the way for a more educated world. It is clear that the impact so far has been enormous, but now, TED has the opportunity to achieve an even greater impact in its mission to spread knowledge in the world.
 Ochoa, Rosmari. “Technology, Entertainment and Design (TED): A case study on how complimentary on- and off-line approaches can build community and cultivate platformsfor innovation and creativity” . American University School of Communication. American University.
 Raza, Ahmad; Hasan Sohaib Murad. Knowledge democracy and the implications to information access. Multicultural Education & Technology Journal 2.1