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OTT platforms a divided house on self-regulation

In March, this column had asked if over-the-top (OTT) video streaming platforms, which do not see eye to eye, will resort to forming more than one self-regulatory body. At the end of May, video-on-demand services split into two groups and announced the formation of two distinct bodies. One was set up by the broadcaster-led OTT streaming platforms formed under the Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF), soon to be renamed Indian Broadcasting and Digital Foundation (IBDF) to reflect the inclusion of digital platforms. Their self-regulatory body is called the Digital Media Content Regulatory Council (DMCRC) for digital OTT platforms, which is the second-tier mechanism at the appellate level, similar to the Broadcast Content Complaint Council (BCCC), which the IBF had set up for the linear broadcasting sector in 2011.

The other self-regulatory body continues to remain under the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), which was where initially the first few content code drafts for OTT were prepared and trashed—first by the members themselves and then by the government. At least 10 streaming companies, such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, ALTBalaji and MX Player, have come under the IAMAI to form the Digital Publishers Content Grievances Council (DPCGC).

To be sure, both the courts and the government had been mounting pressure on streaming firms to set up a self-regulatory code as they had, thus far, remained free of any formal rules. Eventually, on 25 February, the government notified the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, which mandated a three-tier content regulation system for streaming platforms, among other things.

The split and the formation of IBDF and DMCRC took not just the media and entertainment industry by surprise, but also the remaining video-on-demand platforms that were left behind. At least two platforms Mint spoke to said they were taken aback by the sudden move of a handful of OTT services that joined the television broadcasters’ lobby group. And, even though the new body has not named its members, among those who migrated are Disney+Hotstar, Zee5, SonyLiv and Voot.

“They could have done this in a cordial manner instead of a surreptitious move,” said the chief executive officer of an OTT platform, which is part of the IAMAI-led regulatory body. The splinter group argued that the IAMAI was moving very slowly in setting up the regulatory systems. “It’s strange that they say that. They were very much part of the working group that was preparing the charter. They were part of the process… so, it is very disingenuous of them to say IAMAI was delaying,” said the OTT platform CEO, declining to be named.

A former industry executive said broadcasters have been dealing with the information and broadcasting ministry for decades. For OTT content, too, this ministry is in charge. “Probably, OTT platforms thought it wise to come under the IBF umbrella, which has been dealing with the ministry for years. They probably didn’t want to reinvent the wheel,” he added.

An executive of an OTT platform, now part of the IBDF, said the IAMAI was breaching all deadlines and they had to be mindful of the government and the courts, which had raised issues around streaming content, especially after complaints around Amazon Prime Video’s web series Tandav

“We are India-centric platforms and we will be here. We had to act quickly,” the person said. “What foreign players don’t understand is that India is a slow-evolving market. They need to understand and respect its sensibilities,” he added, pointing out to delays in building consensus around self-regulation.

The IBDF said it will create a credible, robust and practical code for content, with an inclusive and fair governance structure. Many feel that the broadcaster-led platforms are eager to please the government and will dilute the edgy OTT content. “That’s a bogey raised by foreign players. We understand the difference between pull and push content. Content rules are different for OTT and TV. Why will we corner ourselves and show TV content on OTT,” said the person mentioned above.

Yet, media industry experts said the OTT industry has shot itself in the foot. It’s a bad idea to have two associations—there’s strength in staying united. Mint

 

 

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