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Amazon Debuts Its First Original Show With Ads, Hinting at a New, Free Video Business

"The Fashion Fund" series will be available for free to anyone who visits and is willing to sit through some ads.

Jason Del Rey has been a business journalist for 15 years and has covered Amazon, Walmart, and the e-commerce industry for the last decade. He was a senior correspondent at Vox.

Amazon has spent billions to create and acquire TV shows that it shows without ads to boost the value of its Prime membership program. Now, for the first time, it has unveiled an original video series that will be supported by ads and live outside Prime’s walls.

On Thursday, the company released the first episode of Season 3 of “The Fashion Fund,” a 10-episode reality show series produced by Conde Nast Entertainment that follows top fashion design contestants as they compete for a $400,000 grand prize. The show is available for free to anyone who visits, so long as they are willing to sit through a few minutes of commercials.

On one hand, it may simply mark Amazon’s entrance into the world of unscripted video programming and nothing more. On another, the calculus to make it free to everyone could be that Amazon wants as many viewers as possible because the site is also selling fashion associated with the show.

Or it could signal that the company’s increasingly powerful media business is set to create a host of exclusive ad-supported shows that are available to everyone, Prime member or not, for free.

If the last scenario is a reality, Amazon could attract a large new set of viewers who won’t pay $99 a year for Amazon Prime and who don’t want to buy or rent episodes of shows, either. And those new viewers in turn could attract big video advertising dollars that are increasingly moving online. (Amazon does offer some TV episodes for free with ads already, but those are other companies’ shows and are typically limited to just the first episode.)

So which is it? An Amazon spokeswoman isn’t providing many hints.

“We’re always experimenting on behalf of our customers, including experimenting with ads,” she said in an email to Re/code. “For this Fashion Fund project, we found it to be a very effective way to fund its production. The show has strong interest from advertisers.”

But one thing is for sure: “Prime Video will remain ad-free,” she added.

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