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India puts a leash around online streaming players like Netflix, Disney+Hotstar

Written by Moulishree Srivastava Published on 

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In September, major streaming platforms tried to push for self-regulation by setting up a structured grievance redressal and escalation mechanism for users.

For long, on-demand video streaming platforms have had the freedom to put the content of their choice on their platforms, but that has come to an end.

In a notification on Monday, the Indian government said “films and audio-visual programs made available by online content providers” and “news and current affairs content on online platforms,” would now be regulated by the Ministry of Information and Broadcast, which overseas TV programs and movies that are released in theaters. This essentially means the government has brought OTT (over-the-top) and online news players under its purview.

The development comes two months after India rejected the self-regulatory framework that 15 major OTT players including Netflix, Disney+ Hotstar, and Amazon Prime had deployed to monitor content on their platforms.

In September, these online streaming platforms had adopted the ‘Universal Self-Regulation Code’ under which they had planned to set up structured grievance redressal and escalation mechanism for users. However, later that month, the government expressed displeasure with the proposed self-regulatory model as it lacked independent third-party monitoring and did not clearly mention the prohibited content.

The recent move is likely to result in censorship of content on online streaming platforms. India, the world’s second-largest internet consumer market, is critical for global giants as well as home-grown firms like MX Player and Voot to drive future growth. Thus they need to work together with the government to maintain their growth trajectory.

A ministry official told local media Economic Times (ET) that the move is in line with the government’s intention to make all digital players adhere to the laws of the land.

“Some content on certain platforms has caused a lot of problems to the citizens of the country who don’t even have a grievance redressal platform,” the source said. “There have been at least 40 court cases where the government had to make an appearance. Courts have also urged the ministry to have a regulatory mechanism. We have been working on that with stakeholders.”

Ministry officials have argued before that online video streaming and media players need to be regulated in the same way as traditional media sources. For instance, Amit Khare, secretary of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, earlier in July had said there is definitely a need for a level playing field for all media. However, he said it doesn’t mean that the government would bring everybody under a heavy regulatory structure.

Industry insiders said that the government might be looking at creating a nodal body for these players that can be regulated by the ministry. The details about how the ministry would manage these digital audio and video content players are yet to come.

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