The OTT (Over The Top) video market in India is beginning to challenge current conventional broadcasting, as an entire generation is now migrating away from television to OTT and subscribed Video on Demand. Recent data from PwC reveals that the Indian OTT market is growing at a CAGR of about 23 per cent and is expected to rake in Rs 5,595 crore by 2022, pushing India to join the top ten OTT markets of the world.
Netflix, Amazon and Hotstar, currently, India’s top OTT video streaming platforms, recently met to explore a voluntary censorship code in India to cover online content. While the currently unregulated nature of the market is one of the main USPs of the OTT market, given that viewers have unrestricted access to online content, the lack of a code is also beginning to raise questions of spreading inappropriate content, which could corrupt or enrage audience sentiment. On the other hand, having a code might bring censorship seesaw and court rulings, which could seriously impact the businesses of such platforms.
According to Krish Arvapally, co-founder, President, and CTO of UNREEL Entertainment, censorship would affect the Indian OTT industry in many potential ways. “Such a move could creatively limit content creators, economically hobble young media businesses, and in a socio-political sense, it could set troubling precedents on what can and cannot be shown or communicated to the general public,” he says. UNREEL is a California-based company that provides a platform for content creators to launch OTT channels and has numerous dealings in India.
To a degree, it is a sensible idea for OTT platforms in India to introduce self-censorship measures, because it could assist parents and help make them feel that their children are safe when accessing certain content, while unsupervised. However, according to Arvapally, it can also be a slippery slope.
“There is too much uncertainty in government regulatory practices as well as with the subjectivity behind the decisions of what should or should not be censored. And from an economic perspective, there is always the strong potential for negative impact on long-term business growth in a relatively young but rapidly expanding industry,” he says.
In a case that parents and viewers have all the information that they need to make a decision about whether they can watch a programme or not, is there really a need for overall monitoring of content? Arvapally says that OTT platforms should take it upon themselves to keep the viewer fully informed regarding the content they view.
“People that pay for OTT services should be trusted to be able to make autonomous decisions around what programming they choose to watch or not. Leaders in the OTT space as well as up-and-comers should instead choose to provide as much information as possible to end-users so that they can make informed decisions around what content they consume on the services they pay for,” he says.
Censorship can have adverse effects on the OTT industry in India. Subscription numbers and, consequently, revenue streams of businesses will immediately suffer because, the charm of an OTT subscription is often the fact that viewers have access to specific content that is otherwise unavailable and censored in traditional exhibition of movies and television. Arvapally says the censorship move could hence encourage viewers to seek illegal means of accessing that content.
“By censoring that content, OTT would no longer serve the majority of users that are actively seeking to view unrestricted content, and in turn, escalate demand for pirated content and other illegal web practices that would harm legitimate businesses,” he says.
OTT is yielding more unique and out-of-the-box content every day, and such original ideas are a result of the freedom of creation inherent with OTT. Arvapally says limiting that creativity will hold back the breadth of content on OTT, which is on the path to completely overtake traditional television within the next decade.
“Censorship also sets a dangerous precedent for limiting expression of viewpoints, both creatively and politically. OTT looks to provide an even greater voice to the general population, but only if it’s allowed to thrive without oversight,” he says.
Navanwita Bora Sachdev is a freelance contributor and a senior writer for The Tech Panda.