Amazon may be prepping a free ad-supported video service (updated)

It's not going to let Roku's free streaming go unanswered.

Amazon Prime Video is a decent bargain when you're getting unlimited streaming video and a host of other perks, but it has some fresh competition: Roku, Vudu and others are starting to offer some content for free. How do you compete with that? By offering your own free service, naturally. Ad Age sources claim that Amazon is developing a free, ad-supported streaming service as a "complement" to Prime Video, reviving an idea that had surfaced back in 2014. It would reportedly give creators a lot of power and viewer data in exchange for content guarantees, although the material wouldn't compete with what Prime offers.

The insiders say that Amazon could share both ad revenue and audience data, and might even tie payments to the amount of time people spend watching shows. Media companies would not only know what works, but would have a strong incentive to offer good content. In return, though, they'd need to offer a "set number of hours" of material every week.

The gotcha: like Roku or Vudu, Amazon would dive into the "back catalogs" looking for older movies and TV programming rather than focusing on the latest and greatest. It's supposedly interested in kids' shows, travel, cooking and others that are a "good fit."

We've asked for comment. However, it's easy to see Amazon going this route. A free tier not only counters the likes of Roku, it serves as a demo for Prime Video. If it can get its foot in your door, you may be more inclined to pay for Prime to get the ad-free viewing and star-studded originals you'd otherwise miss.

Update: Amazon told us it has "no plans to create a free, ad-supported version of Prime Video." That's not quite a denial, though -- Ad Age didn't say it was a free version of Prime, just a free service that could serve as a companion to Prime.