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Will government regulations curb creative growth of OTT industry ?

Some feel the regulations do not bring a level playing field while others suggest they will affect the overall appeal of OTT platforms

After much noise around regulation, over-the-top (OTT) players are set to implement the new guidelines for online streaming platforms under the new Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021. Terming the regulations as ‘soft-touch’, the rules stipulate a three-tier mechanism to regulate OTT platforms as well as social media.    

While the first level of regulation would be executed by the platforms themselves, the second will be self-regulation adopted by industry bodies and the third level will be the oversight mechanisms, which include an inter-ministerial committee.

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Under these rules, it is imperative for platforms to self-classify content into five categories— U (Universal), U/A 7+, U/A 13+, U/A 16+, and A (Adult). Further, they will have to implement parental locks and display classification rating specific for each content or programme along with a content description informing the user about the nature of the content, and advising on viewer description (if applicable) at the beginning of every programme to help them make an informed decision. 

Speaking to the media, Prakash Javadekar, Union Information & Broadcasting Minister, said, “Freedom of speech is the spirit of democracy. But it has to be responsible freedom and so we have created a three-tier check. Since there is no censor board for OTT, we need them to self-classify the content based on age and also provide a mechanism for parental lock,” Javadekar said. 

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The IAMAI (Internet & Mobile Association of India), which had earlier drafted a universal self-regulatory code signed by 17 OTT players, said they welcomed the guidelines. “IAMAI has welcomed the much-awaited Intermediary Guidelines 2021. The guidelines, focused primarily on consumer complaint, will help users of online content and social media resolve their complaints in a process oriented manner,” it said in a tweet. 

Kailashnath Adhikari

Reacting to the regulations, Kailashnath Adhikari, Managing Director, Governance Now, a Sri Adhikari Brothers Enterprise, said the regulations will make OTT a universal viewing experience to cater to masses. “More than regulating the content on OTT, the regulation has a wider spectrum to touch social media. I believe the regulations are aimed more towards someone who is taking undue advantage of democracy. This is to draw a line where people don't abuse the freedom of social media.

“All the content that is uploaded has to be bucketed. Classifying existing content and to come up with new content is a Herculean task. In India, after food, entertainment is the second most thing that is consumed. People love entertainment. And as far as OTTs are concerned, they give a personal viewing experience. So the content is meant to be different as compared to what is there on television. The regulation will give OTT a universal viewing experience as now OTT will have to cater to a larger audience,” he said. 

Rajesh Mishra

According to Rajesh Mishra, CEO, UFO Moviez, films must also be allowed to self-regulate. “While a lot of emphasis has been put on self-regulation, it is important that all segments of the media industry have a level playing field. For example, the cinema industry is the most regulated industry that can actually control whether a child or minor is watching content or an adult is watching the content. Yet for cinemas, there is an India-wide infrastructure to certify the 1,500-odd films screened in a year. In comparison to other media that are available to children freely, the entire gamut of content is thrown open to them without any control. I am sure that if films are allowed the same level of creative freedom, cinemas will surely be benefitted from this. In this regard, the film industry should also be allowed self-certification subject to the same overall guidelines that are available for print, television and OTT platforms.”

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