For the first time ever, media consumers from Europe to North America are spending more time online than in front of their TV sets. That isn’t to say that television advertising is dead. If anything, it’s being reborn.

People don’t care whether they come across great content on a billboard, on television, or in an iPhone app. Big screen, small screen, computer screen – they’re all part of a bigger picture. We live in a transmedia world.

Brand storytelling

Jeff Gomez created the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, which encompasses a Disney theme park ride, a series of films, and spinoff novels, as well as video and board games. He describes transmedia as “the art of conveying messages, themes, or storylines to mass audiences through the artful and well-planned use of multiple media platforms.”

Clever brands are using this new method of storytelling to tell their own brand’s story.

Back in 2001, BMW released “The Hire,” an eight-part Web series directed by eight major filmmakers including Guy Ritchie, Ang Lee and John Woo, and starring Clive Owen as a heroic BMW driver. The series earned more than 21 million views in its first year, and later found success on DVD and even in comic book form.

Coca-Cola joined the transmedia fray with the Happiness Factory – a virtual world of characters living inside a vending machine. The series lives across multiple channels, including commercials, interactive video games, and a musical soundtrack that features a variety of artists. The series provides Coca-Cola with additional revenue streams, and customers with a fun brand experience.

Return on Engagement

Why is branded entertainment more effective than the old 30-second spot? It’s all about emotional engagement. Viewers derive value from a laugh or identification with a well-drawn character.

This depth of engagement generates opportunities for additional branded content such as contests, product website learning experiences and strategic partnerships. For example, Molson Dry was hugely successful with its “Association of Party Pros” – a social reality game that took place at concerts, bars and on Facebook. Players could accumulate points and gain special privileges at events or win party gear at the Molson boutique.

“In order to tell a great story that will engage an audience with a brand, you really have to understand the brand narrative,” says Brendan Howley, partner/director at Fresh Baked Entertainment, a Toronto-based firm specializing in branded entertainment. “The audience is the chief stakeholder here, and now it’s about ROE – return on engagement – not ROI.”

Let me entertain you

In a transmedia world, advertising agencies are no longer competing with each other for attention. We’re seeing a tidal wave of consumer-generated video content through social media communities like YouTube, MySpace and Facebook. The iPhone and iPad are making content increasingly mobile and personal. And with personal video recorders and on-demand entertainment, viewers can decide to shut out marketing messages altogether.

With so many media platforms at our fingertips, consumers are demanding higher quality experiences in exchange for their time. It’s up to brands – and a new breed of agencies – to entertain them.