Netflix, Amazon, and Disney privately discuss a possible legal challenge and other ways to stall India’s new tobacco warning rules, amid fears they will need to edit millions of hours of existing web content, as per sources.
Companies often face legal cases and police complaints their content sometimes hurts religious sentiment, and many have self-censor content over the years.
As part of India’s anti-tobacco drive, the health ministry this week order streaming platforms should within three months insert static health warnings during smoking scenes.
India wants at least 50 seconds of anti-tobacco disclaimers, including an audio-visual, at the start and in the middle of each program.
In the first signs of industry distress, executives of the three global streaming companies, and India’s Viacom18 which runs JioCinema app, held a close-door meeting, where Netflix said the rules would hit customer experience and push production houses to block their content in India, as per the two sources familiar with the discussions.
Executives in India also discuss ways of a possible legal challenge to assert that other ministries – IT and information & broadcasting have powers over streaming giants, and not the health ministry, said one of the sources.
Already, all smoking and alcohol-drinking scenes in movies in India’s cinemas and on TV, under the law, require health warnings, but so far there were no regulations for the streaming giants, whose content has become increasingly popular.
In 2013, Woody Allen stop his film, Blue Jasmine, from being screen in India after learning about mandatory anti-tobacco warnings would be insert into its smoking scenes.
Activists have welcome new anti-tobacco rules by India, the world’s second-largest producer of tobacco that kills 1.3 million people each year in India.
India also has stringent cigarette pack warning rules.
Truth Initiative, a public health nonprofit group, in March, said 60% of the 15 most popular streaming shows among 15- to 24-year-olds it analyze contain depictions of tobacco, “effectively exposing 25 million young people to tobacco imagery” in 2021.
But in India, companies from Netflix to Amazon to Disney, also have popular Hindi content which often shows Bollywood actors smoking, something activists say encourages tobacco use.
India is a hot market for streaming giants, and executives fear business impact and higher costs.
JioCinema has just in recent weeks sign multiple content deals with NBCUniversal and Warner Bros, bringing popular shows like ‘Succession‘ and ‘The Office‘ to its platform.
Together, the companies have millions of hours of content.
Kaushik Moitra, partner at Bharucha & Partners who advises streaming firms and production houses said :
During the meeting, Amazon and other companies made the point there was no way films can be edit in three months, said the second source, adding the industry decide to consult lawyers and write letters in protest.
Dylan Mohan Gray, a filmmaker who direct documentaries such as ‘Fire in the Blood‘, said the new Indian rules amount to ‘harassment‘, saying that murder, war, and extremely violent crime scenes were not regulated in the same way.
Dylan Mohan Gray said :