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Amazon Adds More Video Ads

You can watch an episode of "Perfect Strangers" for free, if you're willing to put up with ads.

Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

Now showing in Amazon’s video store: Another word from its sponsors.

The e-commerce giant, which has started quietly experimenting with video ads, is adding more of them to its “Amazon Instant Video” store. Amazon is now offering a small selection of TV reruns for free — to anyone who wants to watch them, not just its Prime subscribers — and inserting unskippable commercials into the shows.

It’s the second time this year Amazon has placed ads in long-form videos. Earlier this year, it showed Geico ads before the pilot episodes for its original programs. UPDATE: Amazon has previously offered old shows with ads on its Kindle Fire tablets and other platforms; today is the first day it began promoting them via a dedicated section for its iOS apps.

These new ads run throughout the shows — I saw three consecutive 15-second P&G ads when I watched an episode of something called “The Flash” — and run for a selection of older shows.

The theory is that Amazon and its sponsors will let you watch the first episode for free — that’s why it’s calling the selection “First Episode Free” on its updated iOS app — in the hope that you’ll to pay to watch other episodes in the series.

Given the odd selection of stuff they’ve got there — a mix of newish shows like MTV’s “Catfish,” and some golden oldies like “The Dukes of Hazzard” and “Perfect Strangers,” I’m wondering whether Amazon really thinks it’s going to spark sales.

My hunch is that it’s more interested in delineating the difference between the stuff anyone can watch on Amazon, and the stuff that it is keeping behind the Prime paywall, which, like Netflix, remains ad-free (so far). It also gives anyone who has downloaded the Amazon video app but doesn’t have a Prime subscription something they can watch without having to head to Amazon’s site to buy or rent it first.

Still, the move is another reminder that Amazon could have a very big ad business, if it ever decided it really wanted to run a very big ad business. So far Jeff Bezos has just nibbled around the edges, and ad industry observers think he already created a billion-dollar revenue stream. If he ever wanted make a big push into video ads, those numbers could shoot up quickly.

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