NBCUniversal fined $16 million for illegal sales curb in EU

European Digital Economy Commissioner Margrethe Vestager reacts during a news conference on NBCUniversal antitrust case in Brussels, Belgium January 30, 2020. REUTERS/Johanna Geron

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - NBCUniversal was fined 14.3 million euros ($15.86 million) by the European Union on Thursday for illegally restricting sales of merchandise linked to films such as “Minions”, as the bloc cracks down on practices blocking cross-border online trade.

The European Commission opened an investigation into the Comcast subsidiary, and several other companies, on related issues in 2017 following an inquiry into the e-commerce and cross-border practices of thousands of companies in Europe.

The EU wants to promote cross-border online trade to boost economic growth and catch up with the United States and Asia in this fast-growing business area.

The Commission said NBCUniversal’s sales curbs included restricting out-of-territory sales by licensees, restricting sales beyond allocated customers or customer groups and restricting online sales to particular territories or to the websites of specific retailers.

“Such sales restrictions undermine the very foundations of the EU single market and cannot be tolerated,” European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said in a statement.

The EU reduced NBCUniversal’s fine by 30% in return for cooperation with regulators. Its film merchandising products include mugs, bags, clothing and toys for “Minions”, “Jurassic World” and “Trolls”.

EU antitrust regulators fined Nike and Sanrio last year for similar illegal practices.

Reporting by Foo Yun Chee; editing by Philip Blenkinsop, Kirsten Donovan