A fortnight ago, Mint reported that the government is mulling a new certification model for video streaming sites after Diwali. The certification will be aimed specifically at Indian originals. The buzz has created another round of panic among over-the-top (OTT) video streaming platforms. At present, India boasts of around 35 OTT platforms, both home-grown and foreign players, such as Zee5, SonyLiv, Hotstar, Netflix and Amazon Prime.

The government is believed to have been irked by Leila, a series on Netflix, which showcases a dystopian society that Hindu fundamentalism could create. “What the government needs to understand is that this is a fiction show. It’s entertainment, not news," said the head of a broadcaster-owned video-on-demand (VoD) platform, requesting anonymity.

Executives working for VoD platforms added any kind of government intervention could kill the barely five-year-old OTT industry. “Although the government is likely to consult stakeholders before finalizing anything, right now everyone is making their own assumptions. But it is for sure that something or the other will be put in place soon to regulate online content," said one person aware of the development, also requesting anonymity. “In my view, it is a bad idea if the government comes out with a guideline or a code. Media and civil society should see the danger of succumbing to the political and bureaucratic pressures, as this will take away the creative freedom," the person cited above added.

He said OTT platforms must actively self-regulate to avoid government interference.

Earlier this year, several OTT players joined hands to set up a self-regulatory content code under the aegis of Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI).

The stakeholders probably thought that it was wise to adopt the code before government censorship. Among the signatories to the code were streaming platforms such as Hotstar, Voot, Zee5 and SonyLiv, as well as independent firms such as Arre, ALTBalaji, Netflix and Eros Now.

Speaking to Mint earlier, Uday Sodhi, business head, digital, Sony Pictures Networks, had said that with the OTT industry achieving scale, “it is time to lay down guidelines for ourselves. The consumers have expectation of maturity from us. We should start building the processes of protecting them".

OTT platform owners say signatories to the code are already displaying information on strong language, or defining appropriate age for all content. Yet, they argue that the government needs to understand the difference between push and pull content. OTT video streaming is unlike a cinema hall, and is more about a personal choice, probably on a personal device. Besides, executives at some OTT firms argued that being part of big broadcasting companies, they are not foolish to put out random pieces of content. “We are not irrational. Because what we do on our OTT platforms will have ramification for our TV business," said a senior executive, requesting anonymity.

Rajiv Bakshi, CEO, Reliance Entertainment’s Big Synergy, agreed: “To be fair, there has been no shortage of self-regulation in the industry, be it broadcasting or video streaming. Media companies have their own standards and protocols that they follow in accordance with their brand proposition. Industry has done remarkable work in this regard. They have observed the market and kept changing and adapting to that. After all they want their media to be consumed."

He added that in case there’s talk of regulation for OTT, its purpose has to be clear—“whether you are regulating to create a level playing field, for protection of intellectual property or for security and safety". However, the discussion around OTT content gains importance as video is seen as a big change agent, influencing behaviour. An earlier Boston Consulting Group report titled, Entertainment Goes Online, said India’s OTT video streaming market is set to touch $5 billion by 2023. 82% of the users in the Indian market are engaged on advertising-led video-on-demand platforms versus 18% who pay for content on subscription-led services. The report added that by 2023, 40-50 million users will be paying subscribers, while 600 million will be engaged on advertising-led platforms.

Self-regulation advocates argued that the government should focus on the bigger problems, such as fake news and data privacy, rather than worrying about OTT content which is curated.

Shuchi Bansal is Mint’s media, marketing and advertising editor. Ordinary Post will look at pressing issues related to all three. Or just fun stuff.

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