ADOTAS – As a literary guy, I don’t have a high regard for CliffsNotes, but I have to admit they got me out of a couple scrapes back in college when I was hitting the wacky tobacky a bit too hard. In particular, they saved me from suffering through the self-indulgent descriptions and one-dimensional characters of Charles Dickens, who I really despise. (Jane Austen, the Brontes — I’ll read anybody but Dickens, but I think the Russian writers during the same age put out far better material.)
I couldn’t even make it through David Lean’s “classic” film adaption of “Great Expectations,” but I could swallow one of those little yellow volumes and half-ass my way through an essay exam. (I made up for that C with a scholarly tome on “Lord Jim” by Joseph Conrad, which is difficult to read but well worth the effort.)
So I find the announcement of CliffsNotes Films, one of 15 new web series that AOL introduced today at Ad Week NYC, kind of disheartening from a book lover’s standpoint, but pretty cool from a marketing one. Brought to you by Mark “Survivor” Burnett, Coalition Films, Josh Faure-Brac and AOL Studios, CliffNotes Films reduce literary classics to animated shorts, hopefully with the same insight the little yellow books offer.
For advertisers, it’s a great way to target teenagers suffering through Victorian literature — the first six episodes in the series (all Shakespeare plays) are sponsored by “Anonymous,” Hollywood’s pot-boiler take (directed by “2012” and “Independence Day” auteur Roland Emmerich) on the controversy concerning whether William Shakespeare really authored all those majestic works. That matchup seems appropriate on many levels, now that I think about it.
Though AOL’s new online video series, which will be distributed across the AOL Huffington Post Media Group network of sites, run the gamut in terms of genres and intended audience, most of the high-profile content is aimed at women. Top of the list has to be fashion model Heidi Klum’s show dedicated to fabulous living (I’m more interested in “Absolutely Fabulous” living myself), which should be prime fodder for advertising to women (and likely gay men). “A Supermodel Stole My Husband” features women enlisting supermodels to give their spouses makeovers, while “Little Women, Big Cars” is a scripted dramedy starring Ed Begley Jr., Antonio Sabato, Jr., Julie Warner and Kristy Swanson (the original Buffy!).
And the suddenly omnipresent Jennifer Lopez is involved, with her Nuyorican Productions producing “Lost in Translation” (no relation to the film) in which hip-hop DJ Angie Martinez explores her Puerto Rican heritage through cooking and learning Spanish.
AOL is also celebrating the stats on some of its current video series — the portal announced the regularly updated “You’ve Got” series of one-minute videos on anything and everything has accumulated 100 million views. In addition, recently relaunched live-music series “Sessions” garnered 3 million views in August, more than 200% better than the year before.
According to the comScore Video Metrix, AOL Video brought in 44 million U.S. uniques in August who streamed more than 400 million videos. That’s far behind Google and its YouTube dominance, but it’s on the heels of chief portal rival Yahoo!, which registered 45 million U.S. uniques over the same period.
Finally, AOL has partnered with digital agency VivaKi and its Pool research arm to develop more engaging video ad models. In particular, the partnership will build on the success of VivaKi’s ASq model, which gives users multiple-choice options for which pre-roll they watch. During three rounds of research (or “lanes” — get it?), the Pool recorded ASq as online video ad model numero uno as it impressively out-performed boring old pre-rolls. It’s a smart move for AOL, which has received good reactions to its seemingly counter-intuitive Project Devil ad unit.
In general, I think this is the most impressive online video upfront I’ve seen since the term became commonly used two years ago. The big names have showed up in terms of on-camera talent, producers and even legacy brands (who under the age of 50 doesn’t know what CliffsNotes are?). AOL/Huffpo is looking like the premier stop for premium, original video content — let’s see if consumer and advertisers agree.