OTT: Emerging as a New Source of Entertainment
This article delves into the rising significance of OTT platforms, exploring their transformative impact on traditional media.
The article 'OTT: Emerging as a new source of entertainment' by Jyoti Tomar & Sofiya Naaz delves into the rising significance of OTT platforms, exploring their transformative impact on traditional media. Over-the-top (OTT) services have rapidly evolved into a prominent source of entertainment, reshaping how audiences consume content.
The paradigm of entertainment consumption has ushered from the conventional broadcast of film and TV content to online programs, as a new intriguing participant has joined the party. This is the outcome of the advancement of technologies, expansion of the internet infrastructure, and the accessibility of gadgets that piqued the interest of youth towards online platforms/ OTT- Over the top.
Online entertainment portals such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney +Hotstar, Voot, and others, display content via internet services. These days everyone loves to enjoy their leisure time by binge-watching on their touchscreens, due to the availability of massive online content the need to regulate the platforms has emerged.
In July 2023, the government put forward the Cinematograph (Amendment) Bill 2023, which has notable changes relating to piracy concerns, imposing stricter penalties and intriguing alterations. The scope of this amended bill on OTT is that the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting seemingly expanded the Cinematograph Act to OTT platforms. However, there is ambiguity in this as the bill in some way grants the government power to implication and expansion towards OTT but does not clearly state any foundation supporting the same. Thus it is uncertain both legally and practically the implication of the Cinematograph Act towards OTT, is major because of the changing and growing dimension of OTT.
Impact of New Amendments in Cinematograph Act on OTT
The newly amended Act brought up three new age-rating classifications under U/A, i.e., U/A 7+ for those above the age of seven years, U/A 13+ above 13 years, and U/A 16+ above 16 years. These age-based classifications under the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 have been followed by the OTT platforms.
New penalties against piracy are also introduced and the Central Board of Film Certificate provides a certificate for films in perpetuity across India also applicable to the OTT platforms. The act does not provide specific provisions for content regulations and the establishment of a regulatory body for OTT channels.
Laws and Provisions Relating to OTT
To be precise there is no particular law or Act which governs the OTT platforms; and no rule and authority over pre-screen content on OTT platforms. Although there are no particular laws or acts governing that the regulation can be seen from different acts.
The question in this regard was raised before the Supreme Court in ‘Justice for Right Foundation v. Union of India, SLP(C) 10937/2019’ in the question of the need for regulation, a writ petition was filed by Justice for the Right Foundation in the High Court of Delhi stating the contention that Netflix, Amazon prime, Hotstar etc are regulated and operated without any kind of pre-screening. This was brought before the Supreme Court of India which demanded an explanation from the Government of India as to why there were no regulations on these platforms.
It was stated by "The Ministry of Electronic and Information Technology" that they do not have any authority to regulate the content on the Internet and there is no provision for regulating or licensing an organization or establishment for putting up content over the Internet. Further "The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting" stated “The online platforms are not required to obtain any license from the MIB for displaying their content and the same is not regulated by the said ministry” They also added that “there is enough provision in the Information and Technology Act, 2000 for dealing with content that transmits material in an obscene form or of dealing with content transmitting sexually explicit acts”. The Supreme Court of India found this enough to rely on and stated that there was no need for any regulatory laws on OTT as the IT Act 2000 provides safeguards if a person is aggrieved.
One can also see that the Ministry of Electronic and Information Technology on the 27th of February 2021 issued Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethic Code) Rule 2021" which states that these rules are made to suppress the Information Technology (Intermediaries guidelines) Rules, 2011; is to regulate the content which is going to be available on social media and OTT platforms to put a check on obscene content being exhibited to the public.
Why are OTT Platforms becoming the first choice of entertainment?
A palpable shift which is not sudden at all yet some reasons are playing a big role in all these things;
- One of the very obvious reasons is that OTT platforms do not play within the limitations of STB i.e., Single Operator Set Up Box.
- The content provided to the consumers is upon their request and interest which they show into it.
- The devices connected have their unique connection and at one time perform the role of unicast.
- It gives more control and personalized content to choose and watch for which they have made payment.
- Having the liberty to view content on any device- smartphones, laptops, or tablets.
Content delivered on OTT is of two types - VOD i.e., Video on demand and another one is Live streaming this allows the consumer to enjoy live shows while being remote.
Consequently, it can be stated that the increase in globalization, internet service, and the transition in the lifestyle of individuals in this competitive era is one of the backbones for all these reasons why individuals prefer OTTs.
Censorship over the OTT Platforms
The Indian Courts also affirm "the notion of creative freedom within the realms of artistic works and cinematography a lot". In recent years, OTT channels have grown parallel to conventional cinemas and the unprecedented growth of these platforms accelerated due to the COVID-19 situation. Currently, the whole issue revolves around intermediary liabilities, and the question of regulating the content that is uploaded and broadcasted on these channels has emerged.
Before the Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021, the OTT channels were regulated by the guidelines of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting which suggested a self-regulatory code and grievance redressal mechanism for the complaints of users. IT Rules, 2021, a new tangent to regulate the OTT channels, came up with the three-level grievance redressal mechanism, i.e.,
- OTT platforms are presumed to regulate themselves via the complaints of the users,
- A self-regulatory body, which is comprised of industry experts steered by Supreme Court or High Court judges or eminent personality in the relevant domain, formed by publishers of content,
- An interdepartmental committee would consist of MIB to supervise and hear appeals for decisions taken at level II or if any complaint is referred to.
- Further, except for the rule mentioned above, another set of stringent codes of ethics was put forward under the IT Rules. These are:
- Displaying the content on these platforms would be classified based on the age of the viewer, themes, content, tone, and impact on the viewer, and the targeted audience.
- These platforms must maintain the sovereignty of India, security, and friendly relations while carrying out their streaming services.
A plethora of complaints about administering the content on OTT platforms have surfaced as the content being exhibited contains vulgar language, barbaric visuals, and in some cases exceeding the limit of objectionable scenes, as any regulatory authority is absent. The guidelines put forth by the MIB to monitor these channels were found to be ineffective and big OTTs refused to hold themselves accountable for the content shared on their channels/platforms.
There are two contentions regarding administering the content exhibited on these platforms: the first one is to regulate and monitor the content because some shows such as Mirzapur and Sacred Game depict unacceptable content by showing copious consumption of alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, and visual sex. Hence, the concern over the regulation has arisen to put a halt to exhibiting objectionable content freely.
The second one is that the content shared on these platforms mostly contains prejudices based on the understanding and susceptibility of the viewer and the content is highly distinct from the traditional content, as the content is more racially diverse and innovative.
The overbearing regulations on OTT would preclude them from yielding unconventional, thought-provoking, and piqued content for their viewers. Imposing reckless regulations on OTTs would lead to "chilling effects" on the freedom of expression of thoughts making it extremely difficult for these platforms to maintain their services.
Recently, OTT platforms have gained popularity because of their piqued and creative content and most viewers belong to the age group of 15-35 making it highly susceptible for the government to administer and regulate the framework that caters for the needs and values of the country as well as do not sabotage the freedom of expression of thoughts.
From time to time, the Government and its Ministries issue and propose guidelines to regulate the content of these platforms. Yet there is no establishment of appropriate authority that can regulate and be held accountable for the same even after the Cinematograph (Amendment) Bill, 2023 is introduced.
 OTT v. Cinema: The Changing Landscape of Entertainment Consumption, Available Here
 The Cinematograph (Amendment) Act, 2023, Available Here
 Revolutionizing the Silver Screen: The Cinematograph Bill Amendment Battles the Menace of Film Privacy, Available Here