February 23, 2024

Amazon first started including Prime Video as a Prime membership benefit back in 2011. Over the years, its video-on-demand service became easily accessible on smart TVs and Fire TV and other streaming devices, with the added perk of being an ad-free streaming platform. You can stream thousands of TV shows and movies, including originals like The Boys and Invincible.

Now, Prime Video is the latest service to get in on the advertising game, but not by offering a cheaper tier. Ads launched on Jan. 29 in the US, and unless you want to pay an extra $3 a month to stream without them, it’s the default way to watch most content on the platform. If you have a standalone Prime Video subscription that’s not attached to a Prime Membership, the $9 monthly fee jumps to $12 to go commercial-free. 

I spent time testing out the new ad experience while comparing it to other streaming services such as Netflix, Disney Plus, Max and Hulu. When CNET analyzed what it was like to stream with commercials on all the major platforms, we learned some ad loads are way heavier than others. I can say that Prime Video is on the leaner side, even when stacked against Freevee, Amazon’s free ad-supported streamer.

Should you pay to upgrade your account to watch ad-free? Among its rivals, Prime Video costs the least to upgrade, but some of you may find that going ad-free is not worth the extra dollars. Keep reading to see what I learned while trying streaming with commercial breaks and things you may want to consider. 

Read more: Best Streaming Services for Kids

Prime Video’s ad load is pretty light

When Amazon made its initial announcement last September about adding commercials to Prime Video, the company said it would “aim to have meaningfully fewer ads than linear TV and other streaming TV providers.” So far, it’s delivered on that promise, and I found the commercial breaks to be short. Not every title has ads, downloaded episodes are commercial-free and some content forgoes ads in the middle of the video. 

For example, there were no ads in the Mr. and Mrs. Smith before, during or after show, even when the next episode streamed on autoplay. I’m not sure if it was a glitch, but the Amazon original series played ad-free through several episodes. There was a 15-second ad before The Underdoggs (runtime 98 minutes), but no other commercials.

The breaks were random and ranged in terms of placement and length, but all ad breaks lasted less than a minute. The Secret of Nimh has a 30-second pre-roll, with two commercial breaks in the middle of the film: 15 seconds for the first, about 30 seconds for the second. I didn’t see ads while streaming Hazbin Hotel or Asteroid City, but Reacher was a little different. 

In one episode of the series, a pre-roll of commercials lasted roughly 50 seconds. Another season 2 episode had a 27-second pre-roll and a 15-second break in the middle. In an hour-long episode of The Boys, I watched a 30-second ad in the beginning and a 15-second commercial later in the episode. Meanwhile, a 53-minute episode of Heroes had two ad breaks that consisted of one commercial each — one for 33 seconds and the other for 15 seconds.

Viewers can see a countdown for the number and length of ads. If you’re using the Prime Video mobile app, the pre-show set of ads will count down and tell you when your show starts. I’ll also note that with on-demand content, you’re able to track the ad breaks on the progress bar. 

Overall, Prime Video’s commercial breaks are shorter than competitors like Hulu, Disney Plus, Netflix and Paramount Plus. 

Ads on Amazon Prime Video

Prime Video’s ad countdown shows on TV screen.

James Martin/CNET

Live content has ads too

You will not see commercials when streaming titles you’ve rented or bought on Prime Video, but that’s not the case for live content. Live sports such as the NFL’s Thursday Night Football and National Women’s Soccer League include ads, as does free network TV like CBS News. 

This applies to live content included with Prime Video. Other programming that is part of a third-party subscription service such as Paramount Plus or Max will only air ads if you have an ad-supported plan for that particular platform (e.g. Paramount Plus Essential). Freevee is a separate platform, but its live channels are available to stream within the Prime Video app, and they include commercials.

What about kids’ content?

Prime Video does not show commercials within a kid’s profile, but you may see ads if you’re watching a family-friendly title on an adult profile. For instance, The Portable Door is rated for ages 13 and up, and the film included a pre-roll that had two ads. 

Features such as The Bad Guys, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and Paw Patrol: The Movie streamed without any commercials on both kids and adult profiles. The PG-rated Escape from Planet Earth was also commercial-free. Because Prime Video content is mixed in with Freevee’s on the app, you will find some kids’ titles have ads if you’re streaming on an adult profile. The curated kids’ profile only has titles included with Prime Video — not Freevee — and some parents may find the selection of TV shows and movies to be enough. 

Much of the kids’ content on Prime Video is ad-free, so it’s up to you to choose whether to stick with the designated kiddie profile or watch family-friendly titles on the adult profile. 

Sonic's quills glow in a still from the film

Movies like Sonic the Hedgehog 2 air without commercials on Prime Video, and you don’t need to upgrade.

Paramount Pictures

Should you upgrade to ad-free?

Unlike Netflix, there is no missing or restricted content on Prime Video with ads. Because this is the default version of the streaming service, there aren’t multiple subscription tiers to choose from, and no way to opt in or out. Your only bet is to spend $3 more each month to stream ad-free. The ad load is light, so if you can tolerate the platform’s short breaks, save yourself a few bucks.