OTT Streaming in India – need for ‘over-the-top’ regulation of the industry?

In today’s dynamic landscape of entertainment options and their mass consumption in India, there has been a notable paradigm shift from traditional television broadcasting to Over-The-Top (OTT) broadcasting platforms. The Telecom Regulatory Authority Of India (‘TRAI’) reports that there has been a continuous decline, from 98.5 million (in 2018) to 64 million (in 2023), in the subscriber base of the Cable TV Industry, which still continues to decline.[1] As these digital streaming services have gained immense popularity over the last decade, there has been a recent uptick on part of the government to regulate such platforms and services.

Currently, the primary regulatory framework guiding the digital media space in India is the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021[2] (hereinafter ‘IT Rules 2021’) under the Information Technology Act, 2000 (hereinafter, ‘IT Act’). The IT Rules 2021 focus on content classification, user complaint redressal mechanisms, the establishment of self-regulating bodies, etc., which have been touched upon in this piece subsequently.

Some time back, the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting (hereinafter ‘MIB’) published the Broadcasting Services (Regulation) Bill, 2023[3] (hereinafter ‘Broadcasting Bill /Bill’), which per its Explanatory Note, has been introduced to streamline the regulatory framework and provide a cohesive legal framework for the diverse broadcasting services, including OTTs. Notably, the existing regulations particularly catering to the broadcasting space were laws made in the 1800-1900s[4] – and so did not include OTTs specifically. Given the rise in OTT consumption, the existing broadcasting-specific laws are deemed inadequate to cope with the new technologies and platforms. The Broadcasting Bill, once enacted, seeks to replace the primary existing law in the broadcasting sphere – the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995.