The cancellation of Chennai’s TEDx licence last week generated much outrage online, but those who have been watching the circuit for a while are only surprised that the committee acted so late and it chose to pull up only one city for the alleged violations.

“When a brand like TED gets expanded to include many smaller events under TEDx, with poor, long-distance monitoring, violations are bound to happen,” says Nikhil Pahwa, editor and publisher, Medianama. The lack of good curators and quality variance mean most TEDx are poorly organised and in no way comparable to the TED talks.

In India, unlike elsewhere in the world, there have been repeated violations of the TEDx rules. Among the regular violations are sponsor talks and use of logos on tickets. A rule stipulates that the audience number not exceed 100, something that is impossible when it comes to college events, says Ashwathi Saran, one of the TEDx organisers here.

TEDx, is an off-shoot of TED, a not-for-profit initiative that lends a platform to achievers and thinkers from diverse fields such as design, technology, science and literature to present their most inspirational ideas in 18 minutes or less. TEDx follows the same format, but is planned and co-ordinated independently at the community level. A TEDx organiser must first obtain a TEDx licence from TED that stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design.

After the first TEDx event held here in 2009, 265 TEDx events have been held in India, according to the TEDx website, and the number is rising fast. Seven different events were held in the first two days of December: two in Hyderabad and one each in Bhubaneswar, Chennai, Pune, Mumbai and Delhi. Fifty-six more have been scheduled for between now and April, and 21 of them have been allotted venues.

Many feel that this rapid growth has posed problems for TED’s reputation. With so many events, it seems as though anyone who achieved anything of repute had spoken at or was about to speak at a TEDx event, and the enthusiasm has not come without its share of problems.

“It had to stop somewhere. Every college was competing with the other to host TEDx events. Many decided to forego their cultural day and sports days because the TEDx event budget goes over Rs. 20 lakh…,” says Anil Parasuram, a physics professor at a private engineering college here.

“It is transformational though. We are not an elite college and getting speakers like this was an opportunity of a lifetime, to be associated with an event of international repute,” he adds.

To organise TEDx, colleges need to apply to the international body of TED for a one-year licence. Various criteria are checked before a licence is given. “The number of licences given to colleges has also increased in the past few years. When it started, only three colleges here had the licences, then it went up to eleven. Now there are several more. TEDx events are usually quite popular, so it becomes difficult to restrict the number of people who attend the event. The logistics of making it run on a non-profit basis doesn’t work out since the event has grown so much,” says Ashwathi.

The result of all this, say TEDx regulars, is that ‘Ideas worth spreading,’ the concept central to TED, has been lost.


TEDxChennai’s licence cancelledDecember 12, 2012