Almost 37 years after the release of the hit, “The Video killed the Radio Star”, the video may be looking at its own demise. On 7th January 2016, Netflix, an Online Video Store (OVS), made its highly anticipated debut in Singapore. Movie buffs may now purchase a basic package Netflix Account at a monthly subscription of $10.98 with even one ISP throwing in a free subscription as part of its bundled packages.
Given the relatively low price a person has to pay for a basic Netflix Account, it seems that Netflix already has an advantage over traditional brick and mortar video distributors and pay-TV operators.
An additional advantage that OVS, like Netflix, appear to have stems from outdated media laws which do not specify whether such online stores require licenses to operate.
Whilst traditional brick and mortar video distributor and pay – TV operators are required to obtain licenses in order to operate by virtue of Section 6 of the Films Act and Section 8 of the Broadcasting Act respectively, whether the same requirement applies to OVS like Netflix is up for debate, as neither Act makes specific reference to the latter. This is understandably so as these Acts of Parliament were written before the advent of the OVS (the Films Act in 1981 and the Broadcasting Act in 1994).
This also means that whilst traditional brick and mortar video distributors and pay-TV operators are subject to additional rules in order to maintain their licenses (eg. local censorship rules) – failure to adhere to such rules would attract sanctions like fines and even the revocation of the operating license – OVS clearly do not have to fear such penalties. Already some netizens have raised concerns as to how easy it is for a child to access the M21 movies that are streamed through OVS.
The lack of clarity regarding the scope of local media laws gives OVS an inadvertent edge over their brick and mortar and pay-tv counterparts, and has become a matter of concern for the latter.
There is a need for local media laws to be clarified and possibly updated so as to balance the playing field between OVS and their counterparts.
Given that there is no justifiable reason why OVS should be “exempted” from obtaining operating licenses, when their counterparts are required to do so, it is perhaps the implementation of the laws with bite that that needs to be looked at quickly. In the race with technology, the law is always the tortoise but without the twist in the end. But prod along it must, least an old song with a new twist is written.