Guest Column: Regulating video in the internet age: Pressing challenges, slow movement
Jan09

Guest Column: Regulating video in the internet age: Pressing challenges, slow movement

Video markets in Asia, as in other parts of the world, are being swept by a wave of commercial and technological adjustment to the rise of internet-delivered video, frequently referred to as “OTT” television.  Unfortunately, in most countries adjustment of regulatory policies by governments is way behind. Asia’s cities, in particular, are rapidly being wired for broadband connectivity.  In developing countries like Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia and India a broad digital divide has opened, with major urban areas enjoying improving connectivity and the countryside still reliant on more traditional modes of video delivery to consumers. That divide is a problem needing attention, but in the meantime urban populations, at least, are enjoying a “sweet spot” of improving broadband and adequate disposable income to pay for services consumers want.  As a result, they have become the object of a “race to serve” on the part of video providers on every scale: • Traditional pay-TV operators are upgrading their VOD offerings and broadening device access to include smartphones and tablets. • At the same time, new entrants are seeking to construct the right content offerings at the right price to win over consumers.  Major global providers (Netflix and Amazon Prime) entered Asia during 2016, and immediately were confronted with the need to adapt a global approach to Asian realities (including lower price points). • A raft of regional Asian OTT platforms have expanded their offerings (including Viu TV, Hooq, IFlix, and Catchplay), alongside a plethora of locally-oriented offerings (like Hotstar, Dittotv and Voot in India, plus Toggle, Monomaxx, Doonee, USeeTV, MyK+, etc., in Southeast Asia.) These market developments have significantly ratcheted up the pressure on governments, who are seeing more and more consumers migrate to lightly-regulated (or totally unregulated) online content supply, and away from the heavily-regulated traditional TV sectors.   Governments are in a quandary – most do not wish to impede their citizens’ access to global information sources, but at the same time they see evident challenges to long-established policies for content acceptability, broadcaster licensing, taxation, advertising etc.   At the extreme, “pirate” OTT services happily locate offshore, respect no rules and meet no obligations of any kind (not limited to copyright authorization), all the while reaping millions in subscription and/or advertising revenues.  Local content industries are crying foul. This very unbalanced competitive landscape causes deep damage to network operators, content creators at home and abroad, and investors in local economies.  In general, it isn’t possible to subject online content supply to outdated “legacy” broadcasting rules, so alternative solutions have to be considered, including self-regulatory approaches (which can gain acceptance from legitimate OTT suppliers, if not the pirate scofflaws)...

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