OTT players will now be subjected to a three-tier grievance redressal process, which includes a government oversight mechanism, and will have to classify their content on five age-based categories. Stating that there was a need for an “institutional mechanism” to govern OTT platforms, the government said it has come out with the rules that give a “soft-touch self regulatory architecture”.

This comes at a time when the OTT industry had been trying to avert a government oversight mechanism. Earlier this month, 17 OTT players said they are adopting universal self-regulation code toolkit under the aegis of the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI). They said this was done after addressing concerns raised by the I&B Ministry on the universal self regulation code finalised last year. But as many as 23 players are still not signatories of this code.

On Wednesday, IAMAI had said it is disappointed at not being consulted on the proposed OTT guidelines.

Age-based categories

According to the new guidelines, OTT platforms will need to “self-classify” content available on their platform into five age-based categories — U (Universal), A (Adult), U/A 7+, U/A 13+ and U/A 16 +. They will have to prominently display the age classifications along with content descriptor so users can make informed decisions prior to watching the programme. The government has also said that for content which is classified as U/A 13 + and above, there should be parental lock mechanism.

Chandrima Mitra, Partner, DSK Legal, pointed out there will be challenges in balancing the right to freedom of speech and expression and the reasonable restrictions and “extensive but not very clear classifications.”

“There are various categories of ratings now which may become more cumbersome for the content creator as well as the platform. Currently taking into the consideration the content which is available on OTT platforms and parameters for certification, except animated films/series, all content may fall into the U/A 16+ or the A category. The players and creators will have to probably re-look at the kind of content they want to make since these ratings will directly impact the storytelling as the commercials involved,” she added.

Level-playing field

Karan Taurani, Vice-President, Elara Capital, said the regulations will create some bit of level playing field between TV industry and OTT.

“This will lead to consolidation or shut down of some small OTT apps which have always been relying on obscene content, which will augur well for large global giant OTTs and TV broadcaster-based OTTs.”

According to the three level grievance redressal mechanism, OTT players will need to appoint a grievance redressal officer, based in India, who will need to address complaints within 15 days.

Complaints can then be escalated to a self-regulatory body chaired by a retired judge of the Supreme Court, High Court or an eminent person with six members and it will need to address these concerns in 15 days. Industry players have raised concerns that only experts will be part of this self-regulatory body and no representation will be there from OTT industry.

At the third tier, I& B Ministry will formulate an oversight mechanism and establish an inter-departmental committee for hearing grievances.

Tanu Banerjee, Partner, Khaitan & Co, said though the oversight mechanism is placed at the third-tier it will tighten the government’s grip on the redressal process.

“While self-regulation by the platform themselves is retained as the first level of regulation, an institutional mechanism may empower citizens to get their grievances redressed with a formal process and within definite time frames. The challenge for OTT platforms may be to navigate through the diverse social sensibilities and beliefs of viewers in India and consequently varied demands from different audience base,” she added.