The TED Conference is an annual event hailed by Wired magazine as “the hottest gathering in the world.” Over the course of a long weekend in a beautiful, California seaside setting, an eclectic group of brilliant minds exchange bold ideas for the future. There’s a DVD available of a documentary that was made during 2006’s TED Conference, executive produced by Daphne Zuniga, Steven Latham, Ted Sarandos (of NETFLIX fame) and Jeffrey Rose. Forty speakers have the chance to stand on a stage in front of their fellow TEDdies, and dazzle them in 18 minutes, or less. Like Jeff Han, who demonstrates his genius labor of love, (basically a keyboard where you can create your own reality by putting your hands on a screen and madly orchestrate an original creation–think a giant iPhone pad). He says, “There’s no reason in this day and age that we should be conforming to a physical device.”

I think the use of the word “conforming” here is intentional. It goes beyond consumer choice of a certain brand or selecting which color iPod one desires. (I hear choosing RED gets you a spot in heaven). It speaks to the waning power of big media—exactly why everyone who has been doing this for a while is in a panic. Our news media, in particular, have seemed to run amuck. There’s been a kind of aggregation of decay of the public’s trust due to rampant complacency, aggression and a Pavlovian response to the sound of the cha-ching machine—in other words, greed. And that greed has been at the expense of so many who depend on their news and entertainment media to do them right.

Like riding any wave on its downward descent, those that don’t get streamlined real fast and tuck themselves into that curl, are really going to have a bad day. It’s taken us some 38 years after the birth of the Internet to really start to hit our stride and utilize this immense leap in science and technology to our best advantage. To my mind, that’s pretty fast growth. [Geek fact bonus: The original basic tenets of the protocol for the idea of the Internet stated that no one was in charge of it, anyone could access information on it, and anyone could publish information on it. Supposedly, the Internet was born on September 2, 1969 (yes, it’s that old) when the first computer talked to a router. However, on October 29 of that same year, a computer talked to another computer via the router over a network. So is the Internet a Virgo or a Scorpio? Only her hairdresser knows for sure.]

Wonky, I know. But in a recent Bear Stearns report on the entertainment industry, the research analysts found that no matter the changing tides, distribution is still the all-important endgame. They say that there will be, “. . . a shift in value from content creators [everyone and everyone they know supplying, supplying, supplying] to aggregators/packagers of content in the middle of the supply chain that can best connect users’ individual tastes with theoretically infinite choice [the superstars who will most effectively get the right product directly to the people who desire it—to rent, to own, or to utilize in something they themselves create].” The router is necessary, but the network drives the content to its destination.

So since there is, and will surely continue to be, infinite consumer choice, the successful architects of future distribution scenarios will have to make it priority numero uno to supply an optimal matching of supply and demand, a concept more ancient than the hills. Getting back to TED for a minute: the overarching theme of the various geniuses (genii?) that got up to show off their brilliance (and honestly, I would too if I had a brain that worked like that), was one of just that, supply and demand. Their talk centered on bringing something to the marketplace—the marketplace, in this instance, since they’re big thinkers, being the world. The whole wide world. www.enteryourdestinationhere.com.

From Nicholas Negroponte’s wish to put $100 laptops into the hands of every child on the planet (yes, he used those words) to Jehane Noujaim’s wish of being able to bring the world together for one day a year through the power of film, these dreams for our future had quite a far reach. We’re about to enter the advanced calculus phase on our trajectory as a species. And yet, we still get all atwitter watching a video of a singing cat or Paris Hilton riding her traitorous boyfriend to orgasm. Will that change? Hell no. Just like TV, we have a choice to watch—or not. And also like TV (I’m disclosing here that I’m not a fan), the Internet can hypnotize you into Smutville in a hot minute. Now, I don’t necessarily mean smut in the porno sense. When I mention smut, I mean the horrible schlock that gets made, distributed and seen by crazy amounts of people. There’s peer pressure on the web, too. In some random polling of my own, I asked people if they’re satisfied with online video, its benefits and drawbacks, both. Many say that they have a hard time finding what they want to watch and would appreciate entities that would “channel” content for them. I think it’s extraordinary that some people I know have a choice of watching 500 channels of television at their disposal. And they each say how ridiculous that is—it’s too much. And I think as the user generated content (UGC) flow increases, there are going to have to be a fair number of those efficient, forward-thinking, industrious Oompa Loompa types out there helping to bring you the world you want to inhabit from a centralized bank. Go ahead and click on that last link and sing along–it’s fun!

NextNewNetworks is a newly-formed media company that “creates micro-television networks on the Internet for targeted communities, bringing together elements of TV programming and Internet philosophy to allow viewers to contribute, share and distribute content.” Notice there’s no distribution without contribution and sharing. We’re all starting to notice, on a profound level, that we’re all connected and that what one person does affects another. And yes, that “other” can be millions of miles away. NNN is creating 101 networks, allowing a user to start a network of their own utilizing the company’s expertise. “We’re looking to be available everywhere, from phones to iPods and gaming devices, to whatever the next platform is. Each of our micro-networks consists of 3-11 minutes of content refreshed on a schedule, daily, weekly, or bi-weekly (depending on the network), and offers one or more regular shows. So what’s your specific interest? Is there a community you’re a part of that lacks, wants or needs shows that only the Internet can provide? Let us know.” That’s quite a broad reach, too, no?

But you don’t have to be a big company or collective to work in this way. There are individual artists out there coming at filmmaking in a whole new way and creating content collectively. London-based designer and storyboard artist, Vanessa Lee, is currently working on a film called Life in Order. It’s a collaborative project that is a continuation of the Koyaanisquatsi film series in depicting a particular aspect of modern life. She has put together a site of the images, music and film clips that she’s collected so far. Looking to make this an international project, Lee is actively seeking to collaborate with people around the globe interested in this theme to start uploading film clips and posting them to the blog—like a quilting bee without the pain of threading a needle.

Which brings us to our own mission in creating the Reframe project. One of the directives of our initiative is to grow an interactive community around the existing collection, a collection that will be quite extensive. It will be a destination site, or network, for artists, teachers and filmmakers, among others, that will provide a wealth of content to be used in a variety of ways from the educational to the personal.

In future articles, we will explore how all of these scenarios will impact the independent filmmaker. Whether you feel the way media will be made, marketed and distributed is a blessing or a curse, it seems to me that the possibilities for retaining control of your creations, both creatively and financially, will be available to anyone with a laptop and an Internet connection. Because when Negroponte says, in front of an audience, that it’s his plan to implement a program to enable every child on the planet to have access to the Internet through their own personal computer, then there will be true “democratization” of content.

Get ready for more felines in concert.

If you want to take a listen to some of the bright minds at TED, visit this site.