Small OTT apps in a fix over Play Store policy


New Delhi: The Indian Digital Media Industry Foundation (IDMIF), representing platforms such as Disney+ Hotstar, Zee5, and Voot, has moved the Competition Commission of India (CCI) against Google’s App Store billing policy, in the process also highlighting the substantial risks for smaller and niche regional platforms, which lack the financial clout or the wherewithal to combat the system.

Regional homegrown service providers said their customer base not only includes Android users but also individuals who are not as tech savvy, and are concerned about the potential involvement in scams if in-app purchases were stopped.

Under the previous Google Billing and Payments System, streaming platforms were required to pay fees of 15-30%. However, with the implementation of the new user choice billing system, these fees have been reduced to 11-26%.

Disney+ Hotstar, ZEE5 and Voot that are represented by IDMIF did not respond to queries.

This issue is faced by other global players as well. For instance, Audible, an audio service owned by Amazon, does not permit in-app content purchases in India on either Android or iOS due to commission-related concerns.

“Rather than size, it’s about where the users are located. In case of, say, Netflix or Amazon Prime Video, whose audience bases are large, users are slightly more sophisticated and can make payments on websites. On the other hand, in case of smaller apps, users may be afraid of scams,” Swathi Girimaji, partner at Bharucha & Partners, said.

CCI, which is known for its swift regulatory actions, had held Google accountable several times in the past, she added.

While some platforms are clearly pushing back, many others are either lying low or considering legal options, said Girish Dwibhashyam, chief operating officer at DocuBay, a streaming platform owned by IN10 Media Network.

“The Google team seems quite persistent (on implementing commission rates) whereas services have to be cognizant of the habits that customers are used to. Not everyone is comfortable with diverse payment options, besides technology integration also takes time,” he added.

Rajat Agrawal, the content and syndication head at Marathi OTT platform Ultra Jhakaas, said it was important for all OTT platforms, whether local or foreign, to be a part of the Play Store. “Other app stores are fractional compared with Google Play. Also, small and medium OTT players are getting differential treatment compared with global giants that have huge negotiation power and a private understanding with Google, where in-app payment is not really mandatory. It’s certainly not a level playing field for all OTT players.”

Another limitation, according to Agarwal, is that Google in-app primarily supports credit cards, but users in India prefer wallets, Unified Payments Interface or internet banking.

“OTTs are grappling with many challenges. Introducing such a substantial cost would compound the challenges, leading to heightened loss for many. This could reverberate, adversely affecting the consumers as well,” said Nitin Jai Shukla, founder and managing director, OMTV, a platform dedicated to spiritual content.

“If Google were to choose to delist apps from Play Store, OTTs will face a lengthy legal process in seeking redress. During this period, a significant portion of their user base could also erode,” Shukla added.

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Updated: 21 Aug 2023, 11:10 PM IST

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