Microsoft Corp. will run free episodes of the quirky TV comedy "Arrested Development" through its MSN Video service later this year, making the show available online for the first time.
MSN, the software maker's Internet unit, said Wednesday it will run display and video ads instead of charging viewers to watch the critically lauded show that was a hit with a relatively small but fiercely loyal audience.
(MSNBC is a joint Microsoft - NBC venture.)
"On TV, 'Arrested Development' created an incredibly passionate and dedicated fan base, and we're thrilled to bring this series to the global MSN audience," Rob Bennett, MSN's general manager of entertainment and video services, said in a statement announcing the deal.
MSN will have exclusive portal rights to syndicate the show's 53 episodes for three years.
Making recent TV shows available online for free is rare.
Shows have generally gone on sale through Apple Computer Inc.'s iTunes and other services for $1.99 an episode, though those are for full downloads. MSN will stream "Arrested Development," meaning users will have to stay online while watching and possibly encounter pauses resulting from network congestion.
ABC experimented recently with making "Lost" and other programs free through its Web site. Time Warner Inc.'s AOL has a deal with sister company Warner Bros. to show older programs such as "Welcome Back Kotter" and "Growing Pains."
"Arrested Development" was canceled this year after three seasons.
Beside the MSN showing, HDNet will begin airing "Arrested Development" episodes in September on its high-definition network, which is offered on some cable and satellite systems. It will have exclusive HD television access to the series for three years.
Meanwhile, G4, a network that targets the coveted 18- to 34-year-old male demographic, has acquired basic cable rights for the series for three years and will begin airing it in October.