Streaming giants Netflix, Amazon, and Disney are reportedly considering a legal challenge and other measures to delay India’s new tobacco warning regulations.
The companies fear complying with the rules would require extensive editing of their vast web content libraries. India has become a crucial growth market for these streaming platforms, but they often face legal cases and complaints regarding content that may offend religious sentiments.
As part of India’s anti-tobacco campaign, the health ministry has ordered streaming platforms to insert static health warnings during smoking scenes within three months. They require at least 50 seconds of anti-tobacco disclaimers, including audio-visual elements, at the beginning and midpoint of each program.
To address their concerns, executives from the three global streaming companies and Viacom18, which operates JioCinema, held a closed-door meeting. Netflix expressed apprehension that the new rules would impact customer experience and lead production houses to restrict their content in India.
They explored potential legal challenges, asserting that the health ministry lacks authority over streaming giants compared to IT and information & broadcasting ministries. Neither the companies nor India’s health ministry have commented on the matter.
While smoking and alcohol scenes in movies shown in Indian cinemas and on TV already require health warnings, streaming platforms have operated without such regulations until now.
Activists support India’s new rules as the country is the world’s second-largest tobacco producer, causing 1.3 million deaths annually. However, streaming platforms like Netflix, Amazon, and Disney also offer popular Hindi content that often depicts Bollywood actors smoking, which activists argue promotes tobacco use.
The companies are concerned about the potential impact on their business and increased costs. The meeting participants concluded that new content would need to be altered and existing content modified, potentially requiring the insertion of ad-style warnings.
With limited time for compliance, the industry intends to consult lawyers and voice their objections through letters of protest. Filmmaker Dylan Mohan Gray criticized the regulations, describing them as ‘harassment’ and emphasizing the absence of similar regulations for violent and graphic scenes.