Content rating recommendations from international SVOD services: should they be revisited for MENA?

Vijaya Cherian, Editorial Director, BroadcastPro ME.

Content rating is a tricky subject and most of us may have varying opinions on whom ratings should rest with. Should it rest with a service provider, a regional regulator or with us, viewers? I think the regulator should ask for a technical provision that empowers subscribers to make the choice.

I have often heard the CEOs of MBC and Starz Play declare that their programmes are a lot safer to watch and designed for a culturally-sensitive MENA audience. Regional executives have also pointed out that local players come under a lot more scrutiny for their content than international streaming services.

In fact, I have heard this even more frequently in recent months. But I didn’t quite grasp the gravity of what they said until I came across a programme that a 16-year-old was watching on Netflix that had a 13+ rating and which I personally would not even recommend to an 18-year-old. If a rating does not sync with the sensitivities of this region, it means we are permitting a certain licentiousness into homes that neither have societal nor legal approval in this region.

When I pointed out that the programme was not ideal for a 16-year-old to watch, I was told that Common Sense Media approved. But does the local regulator approve? Do I as a regional viewer approve? What is the yardstick by which content ratings are decided, who gets to decide them, and should they vary based on cultures?

I know I’m not alone in this query and I don’t necessarily have all the answers. But we do live in a region that has traditionally not permitted resident media entities to broadcast certain types of content. So why has such magnanimity been extended to international services?

Should the regulator insist that international streaming services include an interface that allows subscribers to remove content they deem objectionable from their screen if they do not agree with the operator’s ratings? Should there be an option for subscribers to customise ratings to suit the needs of their households or does this open another Pandora’s box?

Since we live in an age where customisation is key, perhaps this merits discussion at CABSAT 2019? Until next month…