Will the newly announced regulation that brings OTT platforms such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Hotstar under the purview of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting have an impact on story-telling on OTT platforms? In October 2018, the Nagpur Bench of the Bombay High Court had ordered for the setting up of a pre-screening body that would review the content of OTT platforms before they are aired. The court has objected the use of objectionable language, pornographic and sexual content, which are not allowed on other media platforms. Though a formal regulation from the I&B Ministry took a while, most platforms by the beginning of 2019 had adopted certain self-regulatory norms.
Although most OTT players have announced that they welcome the regulation, there is actually a mixed opinion on the verdict. A large section of content creators feels that the regulation could actually hamper free-flowing, realistic storytelling on these platforms. "OTT is an individual content viewing platform as opposed to TV which is all about family viewing. If there are regulations imposed on the content that is being streamed on these platforms, it will surely impact story-telling," points out the head of a content production company. He claims that there is far more objectionable content on social media platforms like WhatsApp and Facebook than the OTT platforms. "The OTT platforms already have set-regulation norms," argues yet another senior industry professional.
However, internet research platform, Local Circles, in a recent report on OTT platforms, says that 63 per cent consumers want censorship or a code of conduct to be imposed on OTT platforms. Media industry expert, Ashish Kaul, agrees that a code of conduct is indeed necessary for OTT platforms. "In India sex and abusive language have become the go-to-market strategy for most digital content platforms. Our country has regulatory bodies for advertising and even tele-shopping. How can we get content which is not regulated?" questions Kaul, who believes in a country like India which has diverse cultures, a code of conduct for content is definitely needed.
Kaul believes that the regulation will compel content writers to push the envelope and come up with compelling content. "We already have beautiful content like Panchayat and Chaman Bahar which is realistic and has no sex and abusive language. Some bit of regulation will force content creators to think beyond sex and abuse."
Mautik Tolia, MD, Bodhitree Multimedia, says that OTT content regulation was expected. "I don't expect any major disruption in the content creation process. Most OTT platforms are already observing self-regulatory norms."