Experts Speak: Industry frets over lack of clarity on MIB’s plans to regulate OTT & online news

MIB OTT

With MIB regulating OTT apps and online news platforms, Media Samosa speaks with the experts to understand the possible impact and the way forward for the Industry.

In a bid to facilitate a regulatory mechanism on content across OTT apps and online news sites, the union government brought major video streaming platforms under the ambit of MIB (Ministry of Information and Broadcasting). The gazette notification was signed by Ram Nath Kovind.

We know that while Television follows the programming and advertising code prescribed under the Cable Television Network Rules, 1994, along with other media channels under the purview of regulatory bodies, the freedom of online media had remained intact. 

However, the recent developments to provide a ‘level-playing ground’, could have far-reaching effects. We speak with the experts to understand its possible impact and the way forward in the industry.

The Big Question – How?

The act was first initiated by Smriti Irani back in 2018 to combat fake news & other issues and has since been long-anticipated as all other media platforms are regulated in some form or the other. 

In-line with the thought, Dhruv Sheth, COO, OML, shares that the move was not surprising as it was under discussion for a while now. “What is not clear and will not be clear for a while is ‘how’ they are going to enforce it. It is because the regulation of pull media, which is the entire internet, will not be possible at all”, he adds.

Regulating Online Content 

The prevailing circumstances in 2020 forced people to stay indoors saw a rise in online content consumption, especially OTT platforms. Ridhesh Sejpal, Founder & Filmmaker, Good Fellas Studios, explains that the inter-connected facets paved the way for the dissemination of fake news and misinformation. So, if MIB regulation is limited to keeping a check on misinformation & restoring credible content, it could be a welcome move.

But what happens next? Sejpal concedes that if this leads to interfering with content creators and limits creative freedom, then it would be detrimental to the industry. “It would also lead to audience disengagement and trust in digital platforms”, he highlights.

Also read: Enhanced User-Experience – A key differentiator for OTT platforms in 2020?

Impact on the Industry

Now, what happens to the platform that has worked on almost free-will and self-regulation to present un-hindered/un-censored content to the audience? N. ChandramouliCEO, TRA Research, explains, “When any sector comes under regulation it becomes a limitation for that sector, but much depends on the heavy or light nature of the regulatory authority, which in turn depends on the type of authority that exists at that particular point in time. This can limit the type of content that is allowed, and anything that does not appeal to the existing authority may be censored.” 

While the expert is in favor of a Self-Regulatory-Authority or SRA, he believes that OTT is becoming the dominant access to content and no government body alone must prescribe which content should be shown. “It not only limits creative freedom, which in turn affects audience engagement with the OTT platform, but regulatory decisions can be subjective and controversial”, highlights Chandramouli.

Pointing towards the brighter hues for more credible content, Sejpal shares that while the non-censorship of content has helped bring terrific content to the viewers, the new decision might make content creators more responsible. “I hope it also helps safeguard creativity and freedom of expression in this rapidly growing sector,” he adds. 

Probing further, Shailesh Kapoor, Founder & CEO, Ormax Media says that whether the recent announcements will lead to regulation or censorship of content or not, remains to be seen. “Given that so much content is made online, it is impossible to censor/ certify it like films”, he points out. “But I won’t be surprised if the ministry puts up guidelines and asks platforms to self-regulate themselves”.

According to the expert, this could be confusing because unlike television, where self-regulation works fairly well, the internet is a global medium that is not bound by geographies in large parts. 

He questions, “Can the I&B ministry expect all videos on YouTube, which is a user platform too, to adhere to guidelines? What about social media, which also has video content? The more the government gets into this, the more confusing they might end up making it.”, he declares.

Reiterating a similar viewpoint, Sheth shares that this development can also create uncertainty for the creators. “Nobody knows what the regulation will mean and hence, any content being envisioned or created right now will be with a definite uncertainty”, he shares. 

Apart from the liberty of content creation, another impacted area could be regulation on the pricing. Kapoor expresses, “I hope they don’t think on these lines, but given the track record with television, they may come up with such directives for OTT too.”

For example, suggesting that there should be an upper limit on how much a subscription service can be priced. Such an endeavor might prove to be strange as nowhere in the world is Netflix told how they should price themselves,” he says.

Way Forward

As we move forward, most experts believe that the OTT industry in India is still at a nascent stage. Hence, more clarity on the regulation from the MIB would be required, especially to structure its core values and processes.

Karan Bedi, CEO – MX Player, shares that they look forward to working with the ministry to implement their self-regulation efforts. “As responsible content creators, we want to ensure this act not only takes cognizance of the nature of the content being released but also ensures that we safeguard creativity in this rapidly growing sector.”

According to Sejpal, it will be great if digital platforms join hands in forming a common consensus to cooperate with the MIB regulations and also add value to them by making sure that content creators and digital platforms can practice their full imaginative and creative potentials.

“The ministry should be open to a dialogue with all the stakeholders and then come to a final decision”, concludes Sheth

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Aishwarrya Chakraverty
A storyteller and a narrator by heart, vocalist by genes and a thesaurus-bee. Also, an explorer, traveler, and trekker, Aishwarrya has myriads of interests with love for music and movies. Writing is not just a hobby but her first love with a Facebook page on perspectives, channelizing the passion. Got her research paper published with IGI Global US on music. A maverick by nature and a feminist by choice, to challenge stereotypes.

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