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IMDb TV: Everything You Need to Know About the Fast-Growing Free, Ad-Supported Side of Amazon’s Streaming Business

(Image credit: Amazon)

Teasing out the raison d’être and market role of IMDb TV, the free service tucked into Amazon’s panoply of video offerings, can be a challenge for all but the most closely attuned observer. 

It’s not another Amazon Prime Video, which features pricey AAA originals as a particularly attractive benefit of the $119 annual Prime subscription. It’s definitely not  Twitch, the live-streaming service moving away from its gaming roots. And it’s not Channels, Amazon’s add-on service selling subscriptions to about 150 third-party channels.  

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Like Prime Video, IMDb TV features original programming, albeit considerably less ambitious shows than, say, Jack Ryan, Homecoming, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Fleabag, or The Boys. It’s mostly “shoulder content” for fans of film and TV, like the month’s best new shows on Hulu, or today’s celebrity birthdays. 

IMDb TV does offer an impressive bench of licensed shows, culled from the libraries of Fox, Universal, DreamWorks, MGM, Sony, Paramount and others. Among the available movies are such notables as Patriot Games, O Brother Where Art Thou, Taxi Driver, Oldboy, Sherlock Holmes, Rushmore, Life of Pi, Lawrence of Arabia, Charade, Whale Rider, His Gal Friday, Spotlight and Memento. 

Available TV series include: Ugly Betty, Malcolm in the Middle, Boston Legal, Murder She Wrote, St. Elsewhere,Little House on the Prairie, Ally McBeal, Desperate Housewives, Columbo, The Rockford Files, Wiseguy, Dallas, and The Rifleman.

Mad Men joins the IMDb TV roster this week, part of a complicated rights deal Lionsgate cut with Amazon and several other outlets, after a long ride on Netflix. Other acquired series for IMDb TV since its content team moved under the Amazon Studios umbrella include Chicago Fire, Schitt’s Creek, Lost, and Friday Night Lights. And it’s all free to watch, for the price of registering.

If you do subscribe to Prime, IMDb TV becomes one of your available Channels. As the site proclaims in a 5-second ad before every show, it’s “Always Entertaining. Always Free.” 

The ad support is lighter than typical for broadcast or pay-TV outlets, more like a Hulu. As the promos also say, “Fewer ads, No Subscriptions required.”

 In O Brother, for instance, the 107-minute film had seven ad “pods,” each with two or three brief ads totaling about a minute of run time. Not bad when watching a 20-year-old Coen Bros. movie that grabbed a couple of Oscar nominations, won George Clooney a Golden Globe, and featured one of the best-selling movie soundtracks of all time

By the way, I know all that because of one of IMDb TV’s defining aspects: its integration with the authoritative database of film and TV shows that Amazon bought in 1998, basically as a lead-generation tool for the DVDs and VHS tapes it was selling back then. 

IMDb TV is much newer, launching 18 months ago as FreeDive, a puzzling name that had no connection to any Amazon asset, nor any resonance with consumers. It took Amazon about six months to rename the service to one of its oldest and most prominent in-house brands. Since then, the service seems focused as much on providing TV and movie fans stuff about TV and films as it is about actually streaming those shows to them. 

IMDb TV, in fact, isn’t even the first thing you see on the mobile app. These days, the first screen spotlights fan-focused meta-content, then (if you’re signed in), your personalized watchlist of upcoming programs, and prominent programming on major streamers. 

This weekend, for instance, “Fan Favorites” included Greyhound on Apple TV+, Dark and The Old Guard on Netflix, Hamilton on Disney+, and Joker on HBO. HBO Max, of course, is not available on Amazon Prime Channels nor Roku. Not incidentally, Knives Out is also available among the Fan Favorites, for free on Amazon Prime. Or you can buy it through Amazon. 

So where to place IMDb TV in the Amazon firmament?

Analyst Rich Greenfield of Lightshed Partners suggests that IMDB.TV ultimately should be seen as part of a huge array of Amazon services designed to keep customers engaged within its ecosystem. Amazon, like Apple and Google, is playing a much broader strategic game, offering customers a wide spectrum of video, music and gaming entertainment, and the devices to deliver them. 

Add the various entertainment offerings from all three tech giants to their efforts in smart-home technology, immersive entertainment, AI-based personal assistants and speakers, and a raft of other devices from iPhones to Fire TVs to Nest thermostats. IMDb TV is just another soldier in the battle to keep consumers engaged with Amazon for nearly everything. 

Perhaps that’s why tracking down IMDb TV can be a bit of challenge. It’s the third option on the IMDb app, doesn’t have its own separate app, isn’t available on Apple TV or Roku, and is tucked deep in the Amazon Prime website. It is, of course, closely integrated into Amazon Fire TV devices.

And there’s plenty to watch, from the high-profile licensed programs to lots of original material about beloved stars, shows, genres and their back stories. Keeping those hard-core fans around, and giving them more reasons to watch, and subscribe to third-party channels, and buy seasons of favorites, all while driving ad revenue to pay for it all, may be all the reason to be that IMDb TV needs in Amazon World.