Censorship and moral policing: How the Media is facing the lash of the viewer and the Government

The OTT age is here. With the pandemic supporting this form of media, many studios embrace the change a sit delivers them cash. Consumers don't have to reach theatres, and creative freedom is highly flexible. But, as time passes by, the reach is getting easier, and thus the content also seems to infuriate many. Shows of the past face criticism today, and thus the rise of censorship faces a new agenda for the Government. So, is censorship an essential part of the viewer experience?

The Over the Top media service is a streaming media service offered via the internet directly to viewers. This platform has overtaken the task done by television through cable, satellite, etc. There are many OTT platforms in India, such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hotstar, Voot, etc. Unlike the content regulated by CBFC, BCCC, etc., (1) provided by cinema or television, the OTT platforms have no regulatory body over them to control the streamed content and thus enjoy their freedom. Although in violation of the nation’s various laws, the content provided on such platforms is still under observation by the Supreme Court (2). 

The media and entertainment industry has grown at an unprecedented pace. It continues to grow globally, especially with the emergence of new distribution media, backed by dynamic technological advances. Over the years, the Indian market has not only followed this global trend but has also shown enormous potential (3). The Indian media-entertainment sector has seen a paradigm shift in recent times, both in the volume and demand for varied content and in the media chosen by viewers to access the content. Digital media entertainment platforms, also known as OTT platforms, have become popular with viewers of all age groups and categories with increased digitization in India and greater access and affordability of the internet. OTTs are just on the verge of replacing the conventional television box. The availability on a single platform of a wide range of content, catering to the requirements and tastes of a varied audience base, adds to the viewers being more attractive to the OTT entertainment platforms (4). 

Furthermore, since digital content is not subject to the censorship certification applicable to films and television programs, there is ample creative freedom for such content creators. At the same time, in terms of the content they want to watch at any given moment, viewers have the freedom of choice. The extent of this freedom and the availability to viewers of a wide variety of content could also be a huge factor in rising online content and OTT platforms’ rising viewership. However, the debate about the need for censorship of content beyond films and television has emerged due to minimal regulation and uncensored content being available on OTT platforms.

The Rapid growth of OTT

In India, OTT platforms are increasing rapidly in terms of subscription, primarily due to several variables. Digital India plays a major role in supporting the use of OTT platforms to broadcast unique content worldwide. The growth in viewership of OTT platforms such as Netflix, YouTube, etc., has led to a youth-oriented population. The fall in smartphone and cellular data prices have made it possible for many of the population to access digital platforms. There are currently around 220-250 million smartphone users in India, which is expected to reach 500 million by 2020. Due to its broad range of music choices, there are also platforms like Saavn, which have become more popular (5). 

YouTube is the fourth most often used app in India because there is scope for a rise in viewership. The number of phone users increases in India. Competition like HBO, CBS, Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, etc., is one of the major challenges facing OTT platforms in developed nations. There are also large production costs incurred to cater to niche audiences. A prerequisite for driving subscription and increasing consumer affinity is entertaining content. Above all, the market is saturated in developed countries such as the USA, leading to expensive marketing budgets to push for viewership. He’s been seeing a boom in OTT space for the last few years.

Platforms such as Voot, Sony Liv, and Zee 5 are OTT platforms created by current local stations to remain relevant and cater to the shift from TV viewership to OTT platforms in the audience (6). However, most of the content on these platforms is the same as the content broadcast on TV. The business model of OTT platforms will also blanket subscriber count with supported content. Their revenue would’ve been generated primarily from adverts. Netflix is positioning itself as Netflix is the thing to do in terms of video content. Others use the strategy of content marketing to demonstrate their exclusive content as a differentiator from others. They come off looking similar to one another and, however. As they understand how to commercialize themselves and therefore can bring content outside of TV, Netflix and Amazon are standouts. Rajiv Dingra, Founder-CEO, WAT Consult. Hotstar is riding on cricket in a major way.

Based on what content they roll out, there have been 30+ OTT players in India in various languages targeting various viewers. Forty percent of OTT platform viewership is mainly restricted content. The target group of major OTT platforms should be “millennials” or the 18-35 (7) age group in ideal terms. However, due to the Digital India campaign, increasing smartphone and data users are largely contrasting. It is also an effect of globalization that has led the population to be more aware. With major data service providers such as Jio reducing data costs, there has been a significant shift in viewership in India, with a 4-8 percent increase in the number of Indian users.

This likewise means that rural India has a huge potential to subscribe to such platforms on a massive scale, (8) making rural India a target group for platforms. In 2017, OTT platforms in 2019 crore rupees were generated in India, which is anticipated to grow to 5595 crore rupees by 2022. As per the latest EY-FICCI Indian Media & Entertainment Report, digital streaming platforms surpassed film entertainment to rank third in the Indian Media & Entertainment sector in 2019. When most OTT platforms entered the Indian market, they were primarily catch-up shows. With the entry of major competitors such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, a wide variety of new shows are offered to consumers. As per data from a mobile advertising and web service provider, Hotstar is probably the most popular OTT platform in India. In one opinion, in the medium to long term, Netflix will become the market leader among the millennial generation as it is a gigantic global player, and it entered India strong, mainly because of Western culture-inspired youth.


The rise of the villain: 


By producing unique Indian content that may prove to become an immensely lucrative move, Netflix (9) also intends to engage itself in the Indian market. Shows such as Ghoul and Sacred Games have already left viewers wanting more from India. Netflix has also confirmed that it will experiment with advertisements between episodes for its original content, exponentially increasing its revenue. And finally, the use of Netflix has a cool factor, a privilege Voot or Alt Balaji does not yet have. However, because of the content, they have been posting, such platforms are gaining more attention (10). 

In July this year, while quoting India’s poor portrayal, Trade and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal (11) asked the entertainment industry to self-regulate its content. Due to their raw and uncensored content, the rapid increase in viewing figures, and the success of OTT platforms such as Netflix, Prime Video, Hotstar, etc. The Government of India, as we all know, is quite big on political censorship. Under the 1952 Cinematographic Act, the Central Board of Film Certification, also known as the Censor Board, was set up. Together with the Rules of 1983 and the Guidelines of 1991, the Act set out how the Censor Board certifies films.

The Act states that if in the view of the authority competent to grant the certificate, the movie and any part thereof is contrary to the spirit of, among other things, decency, a film must therefore not be certified for public display. Furthermore, the rules stated that the certification must guarantee artistic expression and artistic freedom and that the certification is susceptible to external change. Generally, internet media makes it appear to be unrestrained, as it stands today, and the creators of this content exercise their creative freedoms to the fullest. Otherwise, the likes of Angry Indian Goddess, Romil and Jugal, Sacred Games, and Lust Stories would never have made it to a big or small Indian screen (12). 

However, this may not be credible to conclude that OTT platforms are completely unregulated or free of any form of censorship, merely on the ground that there is no regulatory framework specifically establishing how online content is censored or certified or guidelines outlining dos and don’t for online content creators. There are mixed trends from industry players and the public at large in the censorship of both streaming media and films. On the one hand, there are many criticisms for freedom of expression and, on the other hand, petitions trying to seek pre-censorship of streaming media and the removal of content for violating certain feelings or ideas. Additional responsibilities are entrusted to cable operators, such as striving to carry programs that positively preimpact and ensure ensure


Regulation of online content

Certain OTT players have considered that content on their respective platforms is self-regulated through a voluntary online content code, specifically concerning language, violence, and gender. Some OTT players display censorship certificates on their account before a movie begins, provide disclaimers in scenes depicting the consumption of tobacco products and alcohol, provide user discretion details based on the age and nature of the content. However, any law does not currently mandate online content (13). 

This need for self-regulation stems from several factors, including local and regional sensitivities in India, the avoidance of legal action resulting from offensive content, and the pre-emption of any other form of regulation that could potentially curb the creative freedom enjoyed by online content providers. However, in its view on the need for a voluntary code, the digital content industry seems to be divided. Most OTT players do not want their operations to be self-imposed by any code or regulation and maintain their freedom to create content for their online platforms (14). 

A regulatory environment for the operation of OTT platforms seems to be on the horizon, given the increasing audience coverage of content on digital platforms and the corresponding impact on revenues, not only for digital platform owners but also for telecommunications operators providing internet data services. It will also be necessary to comply with the Intermediary Guidelines if OTT platforms qualify as intermediaries under the IT Act. What seems to be seen is whether such laws will also include any form of censorship and whether they will impact the current censorship standards that need to be revisited for films and television.

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My passion is Reading and writing. Basically, an optimistic introvert. Always striving to be better. Writing as a passion leads me to become stronger and focused.

Disclaimer: The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the article have been curated for our audience and does not warrant a 100% accuracy. All the information mentioned in the article is subject to change according to the changing viewpoints. Feel free to reach us at [email protected] for any change or copyright issues.

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Abraham George
Abraham George
My passion is Reading and writing. Basically, an optimistic introvert. Always striving to be better. Writing as a passion leads me to become stronger and focused.

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