I have been doing some fair amount of coverage on the latest AOL Video initiative. Yesterday I reported that they had purchased GoViral over in the UK which creates and distributes branded video. Now today, AOL Video announced new original online content thanks to Mark Burnett and CliffNotes.

The CliffNotes Version of the Announcement

AOL just announced an agreement to co-develop a series of comedic video shorts based on CliffsNotes Literature Guides, published by Wiley. The shorts could include work based on Mark Twain, William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, and more. The content is scheduled to show up sometime this year.

This new partnership will bring video versions of CliffsNotes Literature Guides to the online masses by presenting classic works of fiction in humorous, irreverent, animated shorts that still manage to present the plots, characters, and themes to the viewer.

The Death of Reading is Not Greatly Exaggerated

So in a time when reading is already in decline, AOL is going to help push that along by taking away the need to read at all and offer what sounds like five-minute versions of classic literature. I have a bad feeling about this. I can see one day in the near future, little Johnny Averagekid, when asked by his teacher in school to give his report on Tom Sawyer, whips out his CliffNotes version of the Cliffnotes video and recites word for word sections of these videos. Will he have learned anything about the work in question? Doubtful. Will he have actually done the work assigned? No. Will he ever be able to intelligently talk about the literature, learn the lessons of the literature or be able to profess being knowledgeable about it? I should say not.

For short-form, online video CliffNotes is an ideal partner. Even Mark Burnett said so:

“CliffsNotes is perfect for the short form production format of the web,” said Mark Burnett, president of One Three. “Young Americans are going to love these irreverent, comedic, educational and entertaining versions of the great books.”

I guess the real problem is summed up right here by Joseph Castelo of Coalition Films.

CliffsNotes is known around the world for distilling and summarizing great works of literature for students and scholars who may need help studying 1000 pages of Tolstoy, and these new animated shorts will continue that tradition while updating the format for a new generation of online consumer.

Awesome, no longer will people need to think for themselves, instead they can turn to AOL and online CliffNotes versions of classic literature and simply create a cheat sheet. That’s really going to help build a stronger future generation with a diverse experience of the world around them.

Perhaps next we can have 5-minute versions of democracy so that we don’t have to care about how the government is run. Perhaps we can have 5-minute France so you don’t need to go experience the Eiffel Tower in all its glory. Can you tell how disappointed I am in AOL for engaging in this project?

Sure it might be entertaining, it will certainly help raise brand awareness for CliffNotes (which I am proud to say I have never used in my life) and the format is ideal for short-form branded online video, but the potential damage to future generations and the accelerated death of actual reading is scary. Just when we were making such great in-roads with eBook readers and Kindle which allowed us to carry libraries in our pockets. It almost makes me want to get out of the video business altogether and join a reading awareness organization. No, I’m not anti-video for entertainment and education. I am anti-cheating and being lazy.

Oh well, I’ll step down from my soap box now.

The AOL Video Stream

AOL has announced several new video franchises not seen anywhere else on the Web, including partnerships with Heidi Klum, Endemol, Vuguru, Ben Silverman’s Electus, Next New Networks, Telepictures Productions and the Ellen DeGeneres Show Web site and MarloThomas.com. They are also rebroadcasting clips from shows featuring Kevin Pollack, Kevin Smith and Adam Corolla.

Much of the content being generated by AOL themselves is extremely short form, sub-2-minute pieces. I can’t help but wonder why they made a slew of investments in video production lately if they’re not really using it. They have certainly been making headway.

In regards to short-form online video content, you probably couldn’t ask for a better partner than a company that has made its name on distilling longer content down into the bare essentials and stripping out all the art to leave behind a skeleton structure of content. But the question is how long and useful and entertaining will a Cliffnotes version of a Cliffnotes version really be?