Viacom18, Netflix, Amazon and Disney+Hotstar privately discussed a possible legal challenge against the new norms
OTT streaming platforms contended that the new mandates would hit customer experience and push them to edit millions of hours of existing content
Earlier this week, the health ministry made it mandatory for streaming platforms to carry anti-tobacco warnings at the beginning and middle of their webshows
Streaming platforms operating in India are reportedly mulling a legal challenge against the Ministry of Health’s recent order mandating them to show anti-tobacco warnings.
Executives of major streaming platforms, including Reliance-backed Viacom18, Netflix, Amazon and Disney+Hotstar, held a closed-door meeting on Friday to push back against the latest rules, Reuters reported citing sources.
The companies privately discussed a possible legal challenge against the new norms, noting that it was the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting (MIB) and the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) that held sway over OTT platforms, not the health ministry.
The meeting took place a couple of days after the health ministry issued a notification, making it mandatory for streaming platforms to carry anti-tobacco warnings at the beginning and middle of their webshows. The streaming sites have also been directed to display a static anti-tobacco health warning at the bottom of the screen when tobacco products are being displayed or used during the programme.
At the meeting, OTT giant Netflix was said to have contended that the new mandates would ‘hit customer experience’ and push production houses to block their content in the country. The OTT platforms fear that the new mandates would force them to edit millions of hours of existing content which would entail heavy costs.
A source was cited as saying that the companies were of the opinion that ‘there was no way’ their content library could be edited in three months. Another person familiar with the development told the publication that the platforms decided to consult lawyers and write letters to protest the new notification.
The row has ignited the debate around government overreach in the OTT streaming arena. In 2019, it was reported that the union government raised concerns on the lack of mandatory anti-tobacco and health warnings in web series aired on Amazon or Netflix in India. The Centre had then also mulled mandating OTT platforms to obtain approval before making the content live for users due to heavy prevalence of smoking and drinking scenes shown on their web shows.
Rules in the country already mandate TV and films to show anti-tobacco warnings, but OTT platforms were not covered under these rules.
While OTT platforms appear to have landed in trouble with the new rules, health activists have welcomed the move citing the rising death rate linked with tobacco consumption in the country.
India’s OTT space is led by the likes of JioCinema, Disney+Hotstar, Netflix and Amazon. In the recent past, platforms have splurged hundreds of crores to woo Indian users, even unveiling vernacular content and offering cheaper subscription plans. While the adoption of OTT platforms is on the rise, the space has largely been fraught with controversies and many a time lands these sites into legal cases and police complaints.
However, India’s OTT space is expected to notch big numbers as smartphone and internet penetration grows. According to a report, the homegrown OTT streaming market is estimated to grow to a market size of $12.5 Bn by 2030.