American Water Works goes with the video flow for its annual report

You may have already received in the mail an annual report from a company in which you own shares.

Well, if you’re an American Water Works Co. Inc. shareholder, you can now watch the video. The Voorhees water utility has uploaded a “virtual annual report” to its Web site here.

It’s not a 45-minute-long video. Try 53 videos that last about a minute each and focus on various aspects of the company’s operations and financials during 2008.

The water company isn’t try to compete with piano-playing cat or laughing baby videos on YouTube. The effort grew out of a “big push to get as green as we can,” said MaryBeth Vrees, American Water Works’ director of marketing and advertising.

For the big investor-owned water company, that meant ditching the glossy annual report. And it could because of a change in Securities and Exchange Commission rules requiring companies as of Jan. 1 to put their annual report, proxy statement and proxy card on a Web site other than the SEC’s own.

Now a company can just send a letter to shareholders directing them to its Web site to read a proxy or annual report. Those who want the paper documents will have to call to request them.

Maureen Duffy, director of internal communications at American Water Works, said the company estimates producing a virtual annual report helped it avoid printing 10,000 copies of its 160-page annual report. That saved 300 trees and 98,000 gallons of water, Vrees said.

Other companies have done this. I watched videos from Jo-Ann Stores and California Pizza Kitchen that were fast-paced and slick.

As professional-looking as American Water Works’ effort is, it’s not compelling to watch someone read you parts of an annual report. Mercifully, the presentation has the virtue of brevity.

Just like her days in TV news, Vrees now gets to wait for the “ratings.” Each week, American Water Works will get an “analytics report” on which parts of the annual report were viewed most.

My vote goes to the 4-second clip of vice president of investor relations Edward D. Vallejo saying simply, “Our independent auditors are PricewaterhouseCoopers L.L.P.”