• In a move that will have far reaching impact, the Narendra Modi government brought “Over the Top” (OTT) platforms or video streaming service providers like Netflix, Amazon Prime and others under the ambit of Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.
  • Currently, there is no law or autonomous body governing digital content. In a gazette notification issued recemtly and signed by the President Ram Nath Kovind, online films, digital news and current affairs content now come under the purview of the I&B Ministry, headed by Union Minister Prakash Javadekar.
  • This will give the government control over the OTT platforms, which were unregulated till now. From time to time, the government had indicated the necessity to monitor these platforms. In October last year, the government had indicated that it would issue a “negative” list of don’ts for video streaming services like Netflix and Hotstar. It also wanted the platforms to come up with a self-regulatory body on the lines of the News Broadcasting Standards Authority.
  • Anticipating the government’s intervention in January 2019, eight video streaming services had signed a self-regulatory code that laid down a set of guiding principles for the content on these platforms.
  • The code adopted by the OTTs in January last prohibited five types of content, including content which deliberately and maliciously disrespects the national emblem or flag and any visuals or story lines that promotes child pornography.

What is OTT services ?

  • An “over-the-top” media service is any online content provider that offers streaming media as a standalone product. The term is commonly applied to video-on-demand platforms, but also refers to audio streaming, messaging services, or internet-based voice calling solutions.
  • OTT services circumvent traditional media distribution channels such as telecommunications networks or cable television providers.
  • As long as you have access to an internet connection — either locally or through a mobile network — you can access the complete service at your leisure.

Benefits Associated with OTT Platforms

  • Creative Use of Media: As OTT platforms are relatively less subjected to censorship, it helps bring socio-political content or matters to a common man, which otherwise are censored in mainstream media.
  • On Demand Media Consumption: The OTT services have a hybrid character as they combine the passive consumption mode of television and the consumer choice of the web.
    • Thus, OTT platforms' advantage of playing media anywhere and anytime has created a massive demand for it.
  • Sustenance of Media and Entertainment Industry: The future of traditional media platforms such as cinema, live events is in jeopardy. This is even applicable post-Covid era, due to social distancing becoming a norm in the society.
    • In this context, OTT platforms serve as a parallel dissemination source of infotainment.
  • Democratisation of Media: OTT industry is benefiting numerous content producers and artists.
  • It also helps in accessing regional films around the country as well as globally.

Issues Related to OTT Platforms

  • Lack of Regulation: While traditional media in India are regulated under specific laws such as:
    • Films are regulated under the Cinematograph Act of 1952—which provides for the certification of cinematograph films for public exhibition.
    • The Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995 —that applies to content appearing on cable televisions.
    • However, there is no such specific law for regulation of content over OTT platforms.
  • Censorship Problem: Generally, the Government in India censors the content on grounds of public morality, communal harmony or cultural preservation, among various reasons.
    • However, due to the lack of censorship, content on OTT platforms can disrupt social harmony and moral fabric of society.
  • No Consensus of Self-Regulation: OTT platforms had signed a self-regulation code under the aegis of the Internet and Mobile Association of India. However, there’s no consensus on the code amongst the various OTT platforms operating in India.
  • Cultural Homogenisation: India is projected to become the second largest online video-viewing audience by 2020. In this context, OTT platforms are streaming a lot of cross-cultural content.
    • Though it is good for creating a cosmopolitan world, it has aggravated some of the means in the society like cultural imperialism.