Introduction to OTT
India has been seen as the largest entertainment hub in the world and is known for its vibrancy, charisma, worldwide appeal, and bling. As a multi-million dollar industry with the dominance of Hindi language cinema, the country produces thousands of movies and tv dramas in regional languages like Tamil, Telugu, Bhojpuri, Malayalam, Punjabi, etc. as well.
With constant evolution in the sector from TV Antennas to DTH, India has found a new means of entertainment in the name of OTT Platforms.
OTT or Over-the-Top Platforms are basically video streaming and hosting platforms that started as content streaming launch pads but have evolved into a rostrum for the production and release of movies, short films, documentaries, and web series.
The prominent OTT platforms in India include Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, Zee5, Hotstar, MX Player, etc.
OTT platforms use Artificial Intelligence (AI) to recommend to users what content is best suited for them based on their interests.
These platforms previously used to outsource the content but during the past couple of years, these platforms are laying prime focus on the indigenization of the entertainment content.
The rise in demand for more and more content on these platforms brought the 'Subscription Model' on the scene due to which the revenue generation has grown manifold.
Why in News
When the OTT Platforms entered India, there was no specific law for the regulation of their content. They saw a free space and created bold, outspoken, and sometimes controversial content.
The idea of self-regulation put forward by heads of these platforms wasn’t satisfactory for the people and the government either.
So, in November 2020, the Government decided to bring all the OTT platforms and their content under the ambit of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.
OTT Scene in India
A globally recognized professional services network of firms called PwC, says that India is currently the fastest-growing OTT market in the world and is running on the fastest lane to become the sixth largest in the world by 2024 with expected revenue of $55 Billion @ growth rate of 10.1% per annum.
In the past few years, some of the content that was being published on these platforms was facing a severe backlash with some calling it obscene, seditious, hurting the religious sentiments, etc.
After facing severe backlash, 15 major OTT platforms including Netflix, Hotstar, Prime Video, Eros Now, Shemaroo, etc. put forward a self-regulation code in which they framed guidelines on the basis of which the content will be created and curated.
These guidelines provided for the prohibition of 5 types of content which can be listed as
Content that deliberately and maliciously disrespects the national emblem or national flag.
Any visual or story line that promotes child pornography.
Any content that “maliciously” intends to outrage religious sentiments.
Content that “deliberately and maliciously” promotes or encourages terrorism.
Any content that has been banned for exhibition or distribution by law or court.
The Government not only refused to accept the idea of self-regulation and the guidelines but expressed displeasure over the recommendations of the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) and Digital Curated Content Complaints Council (DCCC).
Further, the government held that the recommended model lacked the independence in the regulation of content being shown on these platforms.
Furthermore, the government stated that the guidelines lacked a defined code of ethics to suspend the broadcast of questionable content.
The Issue of Content Regulation
Although OTT platforms came under the legal framework Information and Technology Act 2000 and had to follow it, they weren’t under the direct control of any ministry
The Government Order says that the Digital/Online Media including ‘films and audio-visual programs made available by online content providers’ and ‘news and current affairs on online platforms’ will now come under the ambit of the Ministry of Information & Technology.
The government is yet to release the guidelines about how it’ll regulate the content but the pundits of the field say that they are expected to be similar to the ‘Program Code’ which is currently being followed by the TV content creators.
When the order comes into effect and the ministry releases the guidelines, the OTT platforms will be required to apply for certification before the ministry and the platform will be able to release the content only after the prior approvals.
Reason behind the order
The Prime reason behind the government passing this order is that the viewership in digital media has increased manifold recently and anything broadcasted on digital media has a far-reaching impact on the general public. So the government thinks that they need to address this issue and organize a proper framework.
Important Bodies regulating the Media & Entertainment Industry
Press Council of India (PCI) was formed under Press Council Act 1978 as a statutory, quasi-judicial body to act as a watchdog of the press. The prime function of the PCI is to adjudicate complaints by press or against it for violation of press freedom or ethics.
News Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA) is an independent body set up by the News Broadcasters Association (NBA) to adjudicate and address complaints about the news broadcasts on the televisions.
Electronic Media Monitoring Centre (EMMC) was set up as a subordinate office of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting with an aim to monitor the content being broadcasted on television channels and to flag and report violations of ‘Program Code’ and ‘Advertising Code’.
Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) is a statutory body in the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting which regulates the public exhibition of films under Cinematograph Act 1952. The body issues a certificate after reviewing the content and recommending cuts (if applicable) and it’s only after this certification that the film is released. It was earlier called Central Board of Film Censors and was renamed in 1983.
Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) is a self-regulatory voluntary organisation which was established in 1985 to regulate the advertising in India and protect the consumer interests.
IAMAI or Internet and Mobile Association of India is a not-for-profit body with a mandate to expand and enhance online and mobile value added services. Its registered under Societies Registration Act 1860.
DCCC or Digital Curated Content Complaints Council is a non-government body created by Online Curated Content Providers (OCCP) in February 2020 to empower consumers to make informed choices on viewing content over OTT Platforms and provide them with a complaint redressal framework.
Conclusion and Way Forward
Coordinated Effort by Government and Platforms
On one hand, the content creators should keep in mind not to make content that hurts anyone’s sentiments and not to promote negative behavior through their content.
On the other hand, the government must give some level of liberty to the creators so that they can be blunt while portraying a character.
The need of the hour is the Digital Awareness among the viewers. The viewers must be made aware of the impacts of watching a particular film/video.
Other thing that’s important is to spread awareness about the responsibility of the viewers. There is an ocean of adult-rated content that may contain violence, adultery or graphic content.
People must be made aware not to let the underage view that content.