After introducing new tariff rules for television channel earlier this year, the Telecom Regulatory authority of India (Trai) has now shifted its focus to OTT apps that stream TV channels to bring them under the ambit of regulatory framework.
Carriage of TV programming by apps such as Hotstar, Airtel TV, Sony Liv is currently unregulated. This puts registered broadcasters in a disadvantageous position who are allowed to give content to cable operators and satellite players only under a licensing framework.
When apps show the same channels without paying the carriage charges and licencing fees, it creates disparity, a Trai official was quoted as saying in an ET report.
The broadcasters operate under a licence which is valid for 10 years. Under the cable TV (regulation) Act, the licensee has to comply with the programming and advertising code and must adhere to guidelines set by I&B ministry. Whereas apps come under IT Act, but do not have to seek licence.
Trai is expected to issue a consultation paper on the matter by July-August.
Adding to the complication are broadcasters such as Star India, Sony, Zee and Times Network which have their own streaming apps. For them, OTT platforms are only another medium for viewers to watch TV channels. They view any additional licensing framework an unnecessary hassle.
Broadcasters such as Star India have opposed the move saying that Trai does not have the authority to regulate apps under the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India Act, 1997 as the entire internet ecosystem is regulated by the Information Technology Act, 2000.
However, DTH companies and cable operators’ associations content that a non-level playing field has been created with the same show playing on TV and an app at the same time. They have demanded OTT players be also regulated under the principle of ‘same-service, same-rules’.
With the rising popularity of OTT apps, Trai is wary of being caught off-guard if a legal redressal is sought for the level playing field in the space.
It is of relevance here that Supreme Court has issued a notice to Centre to regulate the content featured on OTT platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hotstar. The petition was filed by an NGO alleging that the online media streaming platforms show “uncertified, sexually explicit and vulgar” content.