The burgeoning viewers and content producers for over-the-top (OTT) video streaming platforms such as Hotstar, Amazon Prime Video and Netflix can relax. The government is no longer in a mood to come after the bold or politically sensitive content available on these platforms. If a top official at the information and broadcasting (I&B) ministry is to be believed, the video streaming industry in India will continue to enjoy creative freedom without government interference.
Last week, Amit Khare, secretary at I&B, admitted as much during his address at an event in Delhi. While the government recognizes the need for self-regulation in OTT, it wants video streaming platforms to agree to a common code, he said. The official’s comment comes after government’s elaborate discussions with the stakeholders in view of the rapid growth in the industry which has bucked the slowdown trend. Digital video consumption has increased from 11 minutes to 24 minutes per day over the last two years, according to a new report by Boston Consulting Group and Confederation of Indian Industry. Over 2018, this has meant a 10-15% increase in the number of (digital video) sessions per user per day and a 15-25% increase in the average time per session. The same report said that video viewing is largely economy-agnostic, and consumers are expected to increase their spending in the future. Little surprise then, the government agreed to guiding principles that ensure that the industry progresses without contravening existing laws. A discussion paper prepared by a law firm points out that the OTT platforms are already covered by existing laws. While some laws are medium-specific, such as the Cinematograph Act of 1952—which provides for the certification of cinematograph films for public exhibition or the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995 —that applies to content appearing on cable television—there are others that are platform-agnostic. For instance, the Indian Penal Code, 1860, prohibits anti- national content. Obscene content comes under the IT Act, which punishes people who publish or transmit any such material. It also prohibits publishing or transmitting of material containing sexually-explicit acts. There’s also the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act 2012 that prevents child pornography. Clearly, OTT platforms or the Online Curated Content Providers (OCCP) as they are called, are subject to applicable laws.
“We have made the government agree to self-regulation. We made them understand that most of the objectionable stuff comes from user generated content and not the curated content platforms online,” said a media executive privy to consultations with the government, declining to be named. It also understood that unlike TV, OCCP is pull content and hence users exercise substantial choice in the content they want to view. Besides, the major platforms classify and mark programmes according to age and provide a brief description of the content before it is played. The government also accepted the fact that the rapid growth of OTT industry was benefiting small-scale content producers and artistes and that these platforms were making regional films available around the country as well as globally.
Finally the government has relented and understood the need of the industry. Now the industry needs to do two things: be sensitive to the content it puts out and stand united. “OTT players should aim to offer content that is within the existing legal framework and cultural milieu. Additionally, all OTTs should take effective measures to emphasize on viewer discretion and caution,” said Karan Bedi, CEO, MX Player. To be sure, a clutch of OTT platforms had signed a self-regulation code earlier this year under the aegis of the Internet and Mobile Association of India. A revised code is currently under works. Unfortunately, there’s no consensus on the code. For one, the industry is split on the content redressal system. Some want a single-tier mechanism where consumer complaints are addressed by an internal department. Others favour a neutral, third-party platform (involving civil society members) if the complainants are not satisfied. “We believe the code is yet to evolve in a way that it can be effectively adopted by all OTTs. While we may consider signing it in future, the existing form of the code is not yet in sync with the business models and strategy of some OTT players,” Bedi said. However, he is optimistic about finding synergies in the future. With the government off its back for now, the video streaming industry must shoulder responsibility and resolve internal dissension to make the most of this opportunity.
Shuchi Bansal is Mint’s media, marketing and advertising editor. Ordinary Post will look at pressing issues related to all three. Or just fun stuff.