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Industry concerned over Broadcast Bill’s attempt to merge linear TV and OTT under one regulatory framework. 

The proposed Broadcasting Services (Regulation) Bill has sparked significant distress within the television and streaming industries. The draft bill, which seeks to regulate broadcasting services including OTT content and digital news, has been extended for comments until 27 January and is expected to gain clarity only after the general elections, likely to be held during April-May.

The bill aims to replace the existing Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995, and other current broadcasting guidelines.

Senior content commissioning executives and experts are concerned over the bill’s attempt to merge linear TV and OTT under one regulatory framework. This move, they argue, stifles innovation and could regress the industry by decades. A particular worry is the establishment of a Content Evaluation Committee (CEC), which would require broadcasters to certify their programmes through this body, potentially impacting creative freedom and imposing additional financial burdens.

OTT platforms and television broadcasters are also worried about a likely pause in innovation, similar to what television experienced years ago. The bill’s requirement for pre-certification of content is seen as a significant step backwards, particularly affecting genres like documentaries and English entertainment.

“Under the garb of combining all forms of media under one umbrella, this kind of micro-management will only expedite the death of the broadcasting industry. We’ve tried very hard to explain that there is a basic difference between TV and OTT content and the viewer makes a specific choice, fully understanding what he’s signing up for, when it comes to the latter,” said a senior broadcaster declining to be named.

Multiple closed-door interactions have been held with the ministry over the past few months, the person said, and while the government has been singularly focused on the Ram Temple inauguration more recently, broadcast networks and content creators have been assured a lot of these problems will be resolved in the final draft which will only be out after the elections.

A major issue plaguing studio heads and broadcast network executives is the creation of a content evaluation committee.

According to the draft bill, “Every broadcaster or broadcasting network operator shall constitute one or more “Content Evaluation Committee” or CEC, consisting of members who are eminent individuals representing different social groups…Every broadcaster or broadcasting network operator shall broadcast only those programmes which are duly certified by the CEC, provided that the central government may prescribe the programmes on which requirement of certification from CEC shall not apply.”

“OTT players are concerned at the moment. Television has anyway stopped innovating years ago, the same will happen to streaming content because pre-certification essentially takes the clock by 20 years,” said another broadcast network executive.

The shift in the regulatory landscape reflects the evolution of broadcasting technologies, with the emergence of services like direct-to-home (DTH), Internet protocol television (IPTV), and OTT platforms. Historically, these services have been regulated under the Indian Telegraph Act, of 1885, and the Cable Television Network Act, of 1995, with different governmental departments overseeing different aspects of broadcasting.

“Cohesiveness in the regulatory framework was even lacking in terms of relevant governmental departments responsible for regulating the content being broadcast from the said platforms. For example, cable news hitherto has been regulated by the Ministry of Information and broadcasting whereas the Ministry of electronics and Information Technology has been responsible for regulating content over the Internet,” said Tahira Karanjawala, partner at Karanjawala & Co.

Gaurav Sahay, practice head (technology and general corporate), Fox Mandal & Associates, said that one of the bill’s notable changes is the inclusion of broadcasting over the Internet. “…Critics fear it may limit creative freedom and impose financial burdens, with a Content Evaluation Committee potentially overriding internal content monitoring processes…The companies will need to calibrate between what sells faster as against what is permissible,” Sahay said. LiveMint

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