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Netflix, Viacom18 among streaming firms set to oppose India broadcasting bill-sources

FILE PHOTO: Billboard for the Netflix film "Thar" is seen on a street in Mumbai

By Aditya Kalra

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Netflix, billionaire Mukesh Ambani's Viacom18 and other streaming companies plan to collectively lobby the Indian government to delay or revamp a broadcast bill they fear will be onerous for the sector, sources familiar with the matter said.

India last month introduced the new draft law to regulate the broadcasting sector that will also apply to streaming giants. It proposes the formation of individual content evaluation committees with members from various social groups who will review and sign off on shows before they are released.

Though all films in Indian cinemas are reviewed and certified by a government-appointed board, streamed content is not.

In a closed-door meeting this week, top executives of several streaming companies including Netflix and Viacom18 which runs the JioCinema platform, discussed a plan to approach the government to delay and consider overhauling the bill, said the sources, who declined to be named as the talks were private.

The bill is open for public consultation until Dec. 10

Netflix and others raised concern the content committees would lead to excessive pre-screening checks, raising implementation problems as a high number of content that goes online will need to be reviewed first, said one of the sources.

Netflix and Viacom18, as well as India's Information and Broadcasting Ministry, which has proposed the law, did not respond to a request for comment.

The first source said streaming executives during this week's meeting flagged risks the law could impact the industry's growth.

Platforms like Netflix, Amazon, Disney and JioCinema have become hugely popular in India, which is set to grow into a $7 billion market for the sector by 2027, according to Media Partners Asia.

India's government says the new law and formation of content committees will help in "robust self-regulation". The government can define the committee's size and quorum and only "duly certified" shows shall be broadcast, the bill says.

"There are worries about extensive government oversight on streaming platforms," a second source said.

Top Bollywood stars feature in Indian streaming shows, some of which have faced criticism from lawmakers and the public for scenes deemed vulgar or offensive.

(Reporting by Aditya Kalra, additional reporting by Munsif Vengattil; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)