After bringing rules to regulate the TV and broadcasting industry in India, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) is ideating on regulation for the Over-the-top (OTT) apps like Hotstar, Airtel TV and Sony Liv which stream TV channels, as per a new ET Telecom report. The idea is to bring these channels under a similar regulatory framework which has been recently implemented in the industry. It is worth noting that these applications currently remain unregulated and in some cases are offered for free to the users.
OTT Apps Creating Unlevel Playing Field in Industry
A senior official from Trai said about this, “Carriage of TV programming has been licensed out to registered broadcasters who are then allowed to give the content to cable operators or satellite players, under a licensing framework. If a third party, like an app, is showing the same channels without paying carriage charges and licence fee, it creates disparity.” He added to his words, “Either both should be under the ambit of the licence, or both should be exempted.”
It is possible that the sector regulator may issue a consultation paper around July or August. Another thing to note is that in India, the broadcasting license is valid for ten years, and the licensee must comply with the programming and advertising code under the cable TV (regulation) Act. The channels are also mandated to follow the guidelines set by the I&B ministry. However, these applications are governed by the IT Act and are not licensed. If Trai goes ahead with this move, then it is bound to face some resistance from these applications and also from the broadcasters who have their own apps like Star India, Sony, Zee and Times Network.
Telcos Also Supporting Regulation of OTTs As They Provide Same Service
Video streaming service MX Player’s CEO Karan Bedi said, “OTT platforms are only an additional medium for viewers to watch TV channels. TV channels by themselves are already sufficiently regulated. Any additional licensing framework is entirely unnecessary.”
Regarding this issue, broadcasters having their own OTT apps have already told Trai that OTT apps should not be regulated and they have sought forbearance from Trai. On the same lines, Star India in the consultation paper regarding OTT app regulation said, “Trai does not have the authority under the Act (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India Act, 1997) to regulate OTTs… the internet ecosystem, of which OTTs are an integral part, is governed and regulated by the Information Technology Act, 2000, and the rules notified thereunder.”
On the other hand, DTH companies and cable operators’ associations have asked the regulator to deal with the unfair playing field that these OTT players have developed. Trai is also going on with a consultation about whether or not apps like WhatsApp and Skype should be regulated since they provide communication services like voice and calls similar to telcos which, unlike these apps are regulated. Carriers in India have been in favour of regulating these applications, but the OTTs have said that regulating them would be a hurdle to innovation.