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Amazon experiments with ad-supported TV (even for Prime members)

Amazon is departing from its commercial-free video formula with a new ad-supported streaming TV show.

The Fashion Fund is a reality show about a fashion-design competition, featuring Diane von Furstenberg and Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour. The first episode of season 3 is now free to watch on Amazon.com, Amazon’s video apps, and Amazon Fire devices; future episodes will arrive on a weekly basis. (The first two seasons appeared on the Ovation cable channel, before Amazon picked up the series.)

The show is notable for being Amazon’s first full ad-supported series. Even if you subscribe to Amazon Prime, you’ll still have to sit through multiple commercial breaks throughout each episode, some lasting a couple of minutes. (As Recode notes, Amazon has stuck ads into video before, but usually just for series premieres of other companies’ shows.)

Speaking to Recode, an Amazon spokeswoman cast Fashion Fund’s ads as an experiment, one of many the company performs on behalf of its customers. “For this Fashion Fund project, we found it to be a very effective way to fund its production,” the spokeswoman said. “The show has strong interest from advertisers.”

Indeed, at the start of Fashion Fund’s first episode, viewers are encouraged to visit a special section of Amazon’s website, which advertises lots of high-end clothing for sale. One might imagine a future version of ad-supported shows where the products on display are just one click or Alexa voice command away.

Update: Just to be clear, Amazon has has said that "Prime Video will remain ad-free."

Why this matters: Amazon is walking a fine line here, as Prime members may feel that freedom from commercial breaks is part of the deal. While the vast majority of Amazon video remains ad-free, and no ads have been inserted into existing content, the company could invite a backlash if users perceive a change in direction. At least that’s what happened to Netflix last year, when the company experimented with teasing its own shows in pre-roll ads.

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