Under Google, NCPCR pressure, IPO-bound Ullu drops adult content

The firm has been censured by a streaming self-regulatory body it is a member of, and received scrutiny from the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights.

March 30, 2024 11:12 am | Updated 11:43 am IST - NEW DELHI

The Android version of the Ullu app has been cleansed of much of the content it has built its business on.

The Android version of the Ullu app has been cleansed of much of the content it has built its business on. | Photo Credit: Photo Credit: X/@ULLUapp

Pressure is mounting on the Initial Public Offering-bound (IPO) streaming platform Ullu for its adult-only content, with the streaming self-regulatory body it is a member of issuing a rebuke of its catalogue and the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) asking the government to take action against the firm.

Under notice from Google, the Android version of the app has been cleansed of much of the content it has built its business on, the business that led it to being the sole self-started streaming service in India that is on the brink of an IPO. Google’s action was revealed to the NCPCR in a reply obtained by The Hindu

As streaming platforms find their content increasingly restricted against political and religious themes — often due to self-imposed restraint — the government has set its sights on smaller players who put out mature content intended for adults. Eighteen such sites and apps were blocked earlier this month for “obscene and vulgar content”.

These sites include “Hot Shots VIP[,] Mojflix, MoodX, and Uncut Adda.” While there is no explicit ban on pornography in India, many international websites offering such content have been ordered offline by the Uttarakhand High Court, in a suo motu 2018 judgment that the government and internet providers continue to comply with.

The Digital Publishers Content Grievance Committee (DPCGC) was established under the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021. The IT Rules regulate social media and streaming platforms, and require the latter to have self-regulatory bodies that hear appeals from viewers disturbed by OTT content they see online. 

DPCGC is one of two major self-regulatory bodies, and its members include Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. From all the appeals that DPCGC’s grievance redressal board has heard and issued orders on, only one outcome has been published on its website — a June 2023 order against Ullu finding the firm had a “solitary aim” to “depict sexual contents,” and to take down some content that fit this description. The grievance redressal board is headed by retired Supreme Court justice A. K. Sikri.

Ullu CEO Vibhu Agarwal did not respond to a message seeking comment. Last year, though, the firm defended itself to the DPCGC saying that it “offers a wide variety of genres from drama, horror, suspense, thriller to comedy and beyond which targets audience[s] above eighteen years of age,” and that it has safeguards to prevent minors from viewing its content, according to Mr. Sikri’s summary of arguments by Priyannka Chaurasiya, a lawyer for the firm.

Google told NCPCR that it found no inappropriate content featuring children on Ullu, indicating that the commission’s concern was around such content being accessible to minors, and not featuring them. The IT Rules have mandatory provisions for streaming services to provide age-restricting features for mature content, and most streaming providers are in compliance with this requirement.

An advisory by Mr. Sikri in December 2023 to streaming services, previously unreported, “strongly advises the platforms to undertake suitable measures to ensure that all the content on their respective platforms must comply with the test of obscenity and pornography as enumerated under the various laws of the land.” The advisory does not name Ullu.

Ullu had set itself apart — barely — from rival adult streaming outfits by abstaining from depicting graphic nudity or other acts that could trigger immediate backlash from authorities. The I&B Ministry’s blocking order from earlier this month, for instance, does not name Ullu. 

But the firm still found itself in the crosshairs of the NCPCR and the very self-regulatory body of which it is a member. NCPCR shot off notices to the I&B Ministry, Google and Apple. While the IT Ministry is learned to not yet have responded, Google said in its reply that the firm “reviewed the App at issue and found presence of sexual content on it, thereby, violating our Inappropriate Content Policy (specifically, the Sexual Content and Profanity policy).” 

In February, Ullu Digital Limited filed a draft red herring prospectus, signalling its intent to go public. In a mandatory risk factors disclosure, Ullu said that opposition to its content “may lead to legal claims, attempts to ban the exhibition of our shows, protests, or other forms of opposition from interest groups, political parties, religious organisations, or other entities.”

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