The TED conferences, which have been held for the past four years, feature luminaries like Jeff Bezos, Bono, Bill Clinton, Malcolm Gladwell, and BMW's own design chief, Chris Bangle. Before the launch of ted.com, the conference had been an insular affair, per Tom Rielly, director of partnerships at New York-based TED, who said only about 1,000 influential people attended each year.
"We decided to create films of 18- to 21-minute talks and release them on the Web. We knew it would cost a lot of money to do properly. We were looking for a partner last July, and were thinking about who shares our values," said Rielly, who added that the TED slogan is "Ideas worth spreading."
"We thought of BMW because we had seen what they did with BMW films, and because they are very much of a risk-taking culture," he said.
The initial goal for the first version of the site launched last year was two million video views between July and May. The site has logged 8 million views. "That inverted our brand. We had been known as an expensive, somewhat elitist conference open to small groups. We have gone from exclusive to inclusive, from expensive to free," said Rielly.
BMW's presence includes a front-page "message from sponsor" video unit which contains a talk given at the conference this year by Klaus T"pfer, former UN Director for Environmental Policy and a BMW independent consultant.
"We decided to let an underwriter express long-form messages to our viewers, subject to our discretion," said Rielly, who added that TED is bringing on other sponsors.
Each page within the site also has a BMW logo and text ad. And each of the videos, which are now on Google, YouTube, iTunes, SplashCast and BitTorrent and other video sites, are book-ended with BMW sponsorship messages.
Bert Holland, a project manager at BMW, said the company "started discussing it in May or June last year and was petty impressed with their concept. We saw there was a lot of organic natural fit between the two of us."
"What we discovered is there was a strong viral component to the effort, with people e-mailing the links to friends and associates. They watched the whole thing through from beginning to end," he said.
He said the involvement with TED is integral to BMW's "Company of Ideas" corporate campaign. This year, the videos are available to be downloaded to mobile digital devices and were also shot in high-definition video.