The Cheat Sheet

How the OTT landscape is set to change in India

Meenakshi Verma Ambwani | Updated on March 17, 2021

Why did the Central government bring in new rules for OTT content?

The government said it has been receiving many complaints against the content being displayed across various over-the-top (OTT) apps and there was lack of an adequate grievance redress mechanism to address these concerns. In addition, the Supreme Court had directed the Centre to put in place regulations in this regard.

These rules also came after the Information and Broadcasting Ministry had been in talks with the OTT industry for the past two years to put in place a self-regulatory mechanism. Subsequently, 17 of the 40 OTT players had also become signatories to the universal self-regulation code, under the aegis of IAMAI. But it did not get the endorsement of the Ministry.

What does this mean for the OTT players?

OTT players are now self-classifying content on their platforms into five age-based categories. These include U (Universal), U/A 7+, U/A 13+, U/A 16+, and A (Adult). They are required to implement parental locks for content classified as U/A 13+ or higher, and reliable age-verification mechanisms for content classified as “A”

A three-tier grievance redress mechanism will also kick in.

The first two tiers are geared towards self-regulation. OTT players will need to have grievance redress officers who will need to ensure that grievances regarding content are addressed within 15 days.

The complainant, if dissatisfied, can take the grievance to a self-regulatory body, which will be chaired by a retired judge or an eminent person and registered with the I&B Ministry.

Finally, at the third-tier, is the government’s oversight mechanism where complaints will be addressed by an inter-departmental committee.

How are OTT players reacting to this?

The OTT industry wanted the government to hold a consultation process before finalising these rules. However, Ministry officials feel they have had several rounds of consultation with the industry since 2019. They recently also clarified that the self-regulatory body will not consist of government nominees.

But there are clear concerns about the oversight mechanism of the government, which can overturn decisions taken by the self-regulatory body.

With the rules kicking in, the OTT industry is re-looking and redrawing its content plans. There are concerns about creative freedom. According to reports, a Parliamentary Standing Committee has questioned the legality of the new rules.

How are OTT players in other countries governed?

In Singapore, the Infocomm Media Development Authority is the regulatory body for all mediums and there is a licensing regime in place. The OTT and video-on-demand services need to adhere to a content code, which focusses on classification of content, parental locks and display of rating among other provisions.

In Australia, the online media is regulated through the Broadcasting Services Act, 1992, along with the Enhancing Online Safety Act, 2015.

The Office of the Safety Commissioner is the regulatory authority for online content safety issues. In the UK, the Office of Communications (Ofcom) and the Communications Act, 2003 regulate the communications landscape. There is a proposal for a new independent regulator to ensure online safety, develop codes for content and impose liabilities or fines.

In the US and the EU, there have been proposals and recommendations in this regard and it remains to be seen how the content regulatory landscape shapes up for OTT players in these regions.

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Published on March 17, 2021

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