Regulating OTT


08:37 AM

1 min read
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Why in News?

  • Recently, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) released the draft Broadcasting Services (Regulation) Bill.
  • The Bill proposes to scrap the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act of 1995, which regulates the broadcast sector, in favour of unified regulation for broadcasting, OTT, Digital Media, DTH, IPTV.

Objectives and Important Provisions of Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995

  • Objective: The Act was introduced to curb the menace of illegal cable television networks and regulate the programming and advertising content on television.
  • Important Provisions
    • No person shall operate a cable television network unless he is registered as a cable operator under this Act.
    • It is obligatory for cable operators to transmit programmes of any channel in an encrypted form through a digital addressable system when the centre asks them to do so.
    • Under the Act, district magistrates, sub-divisional magistrates and police commissioners are the ‘authorised officers’to ensure that the Programme Code is not breached.
    • Authorised officer has power to prohibit transmission of certain programmes in public interest if it promotes disharmony or feelings of enmity, hatred or ill-will between different religious, racial, linguistic, or regional groups or castes or communities.
    • Parliament has power to prohibit operation of cable television networks in public interest.
    • Whoever contravenes any of the provisions of this Act shall be punished.

Understanding the Regulatory Landscape in the Indian Television Industry

  • Historical Developments of Content Regulations
    • The Cable Television Networks Regulation (CTNR) Act of 1995 was a pivotal moment of government regulations when cable providers were mandated to register and transmit Doordarshan channels.
    • STAR TV faced accusations of cultural invasion in 1995, reflecting concerns over foreign media influence, which is very similar to contemporary debates around platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.
    • The TV shows we see in India now are a mix of different languages (like Hinglish) and formats from foreign shows (like Bigg Boss, Kaun Banega Crorepati).
  • Amendments and Government Intervention Brought Very Little Transparency
    • Amendment to the CTNR Act in 2003, initiated under the late Sushma Swaraj, aimed at improving the opaque cable and television landscape.
    • It made it mandatory for cable operators to submit reports to the government on subscribers and introduced measures like set-top boxes for choosing television channels.
    • Despite these efforts, the interests of Multi-System-Operators (MSOs), broadcasters, and operators often prevailed over consumer concerns and brought very little transparency.
    • Moreover, the intensive rivalries between the MSOs led to collusion with the underworld, and local politicians to protect and expand their cable businesses.
  • Government Regulation was Aimed to Control Communication and Information
    • By framing the CTNR Act and its amendments the government only pushed for regulation to control information and communication infrastructures.
    • Among other requirements, the operators were expected to transmit or retransmit programmes of any pay channel through set-top boxes offering the option of choosing television channels to consumers.
    • The government also set up a maximum price limit on the subscription rates the cable operator could charge.
    • However, the government did not stop the MSOs, broadcasters, and operators from bundling preferred channels, keeping their interest in mind, and at the expense of the consumer.
    • It highlights that these regulations were not solely aimed at transparency and consumer protection but were strategic moves to assert control over the television network.
    • These developments reflect broader concerns about media influence and information dissemination.

Key Highlights of Draft of Broadcasting Services (Regulation) Bill, 2023

  • Consolidation and Modernisation
    • It addresses a long-standing need of consolidating and updating the regulatory provisions for various broadcasting services under a single legislative framework.
    • This move streamlines the regulatory process, making it more efficient and contemporary.
    • It extends its regulatory purview to encompass broadcasting over-the-top (OTT) content and digital news and current affairs currently regulated through IT Act, 2000 and regulations made there under.
  • Contemporary Definitions and Future-Ready Provisions: To keep pace with the evolving technologies and services, the bill introduces comprehensive definitions for contemporary broadcasting terms and incorporates provisions for emerging broadcasting technologies.
  • Strengthens the Self-Regulation Regime: It enhances self-regulation with the introduction of ‘Content evaluation committees’ and evolves the existing Inter-Departmental Committee into a more participative and broader ‘Broadcast Advisory Council’.
  • Accessibility for Persons with Disabilities: The bill addresses the specific needs of persons with disabilities by providing for enabling provisions for issue of comprehensive accessibility guidelines.

Concerns Around Released Draft of Broadcasting Services (Regulation) Bill, 2023

  • Concerns about Erasure or Selective Representation
    • The draft raises concerns that the proposed bill could lead to the erasure or selective representation of Indian minority communities.
    • The regulatory framework might influence how minority communities are portrayed in broadcasting, potentially shaping a dominant narrative.
  • Ambiguous Framing of Point 36
    • There are specific concerns about the broad and ambiguous framing of point 36 in the draft bill.
    • The language used in this section is an example of the potential ambiguity and broad scope of the regulatory powers.
    • It gives the authorised officer the ultimate power to prohibit the transmission of any program or channel not in conformity with prescribed codes or likely to promote disharmony.
  • Reenforces Government Influence
    • Experts have expressed concerns about the potential influence of the government in the regulatory process and the independence of the authorised officer working under government directions.
    • Such a connection could compromise the impartiality of decisions related to program prohibition.
    • Hiring an authorised officer under government directions cannot be separated from the government's sphere of influence.
    • The regulatory process, as outlined in the draft bill, may not be entirely independent from governmental oversight.

Way Forward: A Regulation on Conflict of Interest

  • The Indian government has not effectively managed conflicts of interest in the media industry, especially the connections between MSOs (Multi-Service Operators), politicians, and vertical integration.
  • This has led to a loss of trust and the issues with the CTRN Act show a significant lack of trust.
  • Therefore, a regulation on conflicts of interest is the need of the hour.


  • The suggested Broadcasting Services Bill raises worries about the government having too much control over digital infrastructure and what people can watch, promoting media ownership by a few big companies.
  • Addressing conflicts of interest is crucial for ensuring fair and ethical business practices and the government should prioritise the establishment of regulations in this regard.
  • All other regulatory measures to facilitate ease of business are merely attempts at facilitating ease of control and regulation.

Q1) What is an OTT platform?

An OTT platform, or Over-The-Top platform, refers to a streaming service that delivers content over the internet without requiring users to subscribe to a traditional cable or satellite TV service. These platforms allow users to access a wide range of content, including movies, TV shows, live events, and original programming, directly through the internet. OTT platforms are accessible on various devices such as smartphones, tablets, smart TVs, and computers, enabling users to watch content at their convenience. Popular examples of OTT platforms include Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, and many others. 

Q2) What is IPTV and how is it regulated?

IPTV (Internet Protocol television) is a service that provides television programming and other video content using the Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) suite, as opposed to broadcast TV, cable TV or satellite signals. The delivery of online content through IPTV is regulated by the MIB through the specific Guidelines for Provisioning of Internet Protocol Television (IPTV) Services. The cable operators providing the IPTV services are governed by the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act 1995 and any other laws as may be applicable. The Programme and Advertisements Code is also applicable in cases of IPTV service, thus the content is required to be in conformity with the same.

Source: The Indian Express