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Prasar Bharati’s OTT platform to impact live streaming, messaging services

What’s the news: Prasar Bharati is planning to create its own Over-The-Top (OTT) platform for its content, as per a tender notice released on September 29, 2023. According to the national broadcasting organisation, the goal is to make its content available for all “citizens in India, even remotest village as well as global audience.” While the deadline for comments on the tender ended on October 7, the recent developments around copyright law in India have raised questions about what this means for content like livestreaming of national/international cricket matches.

Here’s what the OTT platform has to offer: Prasar Bharati will provide a multi-screen service for users to use mobile/tablet devices to search, discover, and research content. Users will get an a-la-carte feature to self-purchase channels, packages and contents. This will include all genres of entertainment including sports like cricket.

Ownership of cricket match broadcasts: A 2017 Supreme Court judgement acknowledged the Board of Control for Cricket in India’s (BCCI) telecasting/ broadcasting rights when it came to the streaming of cricket matches. It further recognised Section 3 of the Sports Broadcasting Signals (Mandatory Sharing with Prasar Bharati) Act, 2007 that obliged entities to share live broadcasting signals of sporting events of “national importance” with India’s national broadcasting organisation.

No definition of “national importance”: However, as pointed out by law firms like S. S. Rana and Co., the term “national importance” is not defined by the Act. To address this, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, after consulting the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports and Prasar Bharati, notified a list of sporting events of “national importance.” The firm also mentioned an agreement between Prasar Bharati and Star India (one of the organisations involved in the 2017 case) about the livestreaming of certain “important IPL matches” on DD Sports after an hour’s delay. Still, from a legal perspective, it is apparent that there is some vagueness in the law at least in the case of statutory licensing.

2023, not the year for internet broadcasting: Now, the bigger question is, will these exemptions and agreements involving Prasar Bharati extend to its OTT platform as well? Keep in mind that recent court decisions have not been in the internet’s favour. The Bombay High Court recently affirmed a 2019 decision that restricted statutory licenses to traditional, non-internet-based broadcasting while hearing an appeal by Wynk Music Ltd. While the case specifically looked at Section 31(D) of the copyright law that deals with broadcasting of literary, musical and sound recordings it implies that the BCCI could potentially withhold streaming cricket.

OTTs also under government radar: Aside from sports streaming, Prasar Bharati will also offer messaging services to all its users, an interesting announcement considering the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s (TRAI) consultation paper on OTT platforms with communication services.

This paper seeks to regulate messaging and calling applications and recommend a policy for the selective banning of OTT services during periods of unrest/crisis that are likely to be used by terrorists/anti-national elements. The paper also makes two large distinctions between OTT services:

  • OTT communication services, that provide real-time person-to-person telecommunication services, similar to those provided by traditional telecom companies, and
  • OTT application services such as broadcasting, gaming, etc., that offer services using the network infrastructure created by telecom companies.

So, since Prasar Bharati’s platform primarily deals with broadcasting but is also providing messaging services, which category will it finally land in?

OTT to include targeted advertising: The platform will also allow Prasar Bharati to do targeted advertising for users by IP address and device. It will support personalized and targeted advertisements based on: user profiles/preferences, content types, metadata information, geography or demographics, device capabilities and types. MediaNama

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