Are the days of unregulated Video-On-Demand content numbered?

We speak to industry experts to find out if the players in the space are ready for content regulation

e4m by Tasmayee Laha Roy & Shikha Paliwal
Updated: Oct 24, 2019 12:37 PM

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Have you ever imagined how a censored version of Sacred Games or a Lust Stories would be like? As tough as it might be to imagine, the authority is gearing up to regulate video on demand content in the country. Although most players and digital experts deem the move unnecessary, looks like unregulated content on OTT platforms in India is inching towards a fast death.

Earlier this month, officials from the Information and Broadcasting Ministry (MIB) have already met OTT players regarding regulating content. The Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT) and MIB are doing another seminar on online content regulation next month.

While MIB is taking steps towards regulations, most of the industry has said that there is no immediate need for a regulation or regulatory body in the space.

"Prima facie, I don't expect the non-negotiable prohibitions to be something that the creators didn't already envisage. I think everyone knew that the joy of unregulated content was short-lived. Also let's give our creators and audiences some credit, that they are not just hinged on a few pivots to tell or consume good stories. We are in a beautiful content era where great stories are being told, and it’s true for screens of all sizes. So let's not fret, let’s just focus on telling good stories,” said Harikrishnan Pillai, Co-founder and CEO of digital marketing agency TheSmallBigIdea.

Interestingly, the Internet and Mobile Association of India already has a self-regulation for OTT players in place and is endorsed by players like Hotstar, Voot, Zee5, Arre, SonyLIV, ALT Balaji, Netflix and Eros Now.

Evidently the authorities do not think it is enough but is the industry ready for it?

According to Apar Gupta, Executive Director, Internet Freedom Foundation, the entire Video On Demand business in India is too new to be under the regulatory scanner at the moment. “Any regulation at this stage will be injurious for the industry and prohibit the industry from unlocking its true potential. There are new entrants in the industry who are experimenting with the medium. Both creatively and from a business point of view, any regulation at this point will restrict market entry of new players.”

“When it comes to Video On Demand content, it already falls under several sections of the IPC and the IT Act that safeguards the consumers’ interests. At present we do not have enough information or data to regulate the industry. There needs to be a proper study that studies the space and makes an unbiased observation of all the implications. Only then can we think of regulations,” he added.

As it turns out the industry may have already found their way around any looming regulations.

According to Shamsuddin Jasani, Group MD, Isobar South Asia, “If the government does bring in regulation in the space we'd always find a way to create great content. So, I don't feel that it will hamper industry growth. But it will definitely change the dynamics of how we touch certain subjects or use certain languages. Regulation is something which we all have to find a way to live along with.”

Some players, however, are hopeful that there’d be no move from the government that would hamper the industry and that self-regulation is the only way forward. “I don't think the government is moving away from self-regulation. There is lot of noise around it but I don't think there will be anything but self-regulation. If you look at TV, it's also self-regulatory. Strengthening self-regulation is the direction. IAMAI is closely working with various players and the ministry. Strengthening self-regulation is the direction,” said another player in the space on conditions of anonymity.

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