NBCUniversal fined $15.9 million by EU regulators for restricting sales of film merchandise

The company's contract with its licensees banned them from selling products in some countries and in cases put limits on how they could sell online

European Union regulators fined NBCUniversal 14.3 million euros ($15.9) on Thursday for illegally obstructing and blocking sales of merchandise linked to films such as "Jurassic World" toys, "Minions" school bags and "Big Lebowski" mugs in the bloc. This is European Union's latest regulatory move against practices blocking cross-border trade.

The EU has been investigating a large number of companies for anti-competitive licensing and distribution practices that are illegal under the rules of the 28-country bloc. EU has been long trying to promote cross-border online trade in a bid to boost economic growth. NBCUniversal is just one of the many such names that are being investigated by EU antitrust regulators.

NBCUniversal found guilty

NBCUniversal YouTube Grab

European Union authorities on Thursday found NBCUniversal and other companies owned by parent Comcast Corp, guilty of anti-competitive practices. Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said that the fine has been imposed for "anti-competitive licensing and distribution practices" that are illegal under the bloc's rules.

According to the charges NBCUniversal's entered into contract with licensees that banned them from selling products in some countries and in few cases put a limitation on how they could sell the products online. The European Union has been aggressively encouraging cross-border online trade in the bid to boost the bloc's economic growth as well as United States and Asia in the online retail space.

What rules did NBCUniversal flout?

The Comcast NBC logo
The Comcast NBC logo Reuters

Vestager said that NBCUniversal's contracts with the licensees didn't allow them to out-of-territory sales and restricted sales beyond certain customers or customer groups and also restricting online sales to certain websites of specific retailers. "Such sales restrictions undermine the very foundations of the EU single market and cannot be tolerated," said Vestager.

The European Union started an in investigation into NBCUniversal and certain other companies in 2017 on similar anti-trust issues following an enquiry into the cross-border sales practices of several companies including e-commerce firms. The regulators said that NBCUniversal carried on this practice for over six years, starting form early 2013. However, the company ended this policy in September 2019.

The EU had also fined Nike and Sanrio after finding the companies to be involved in similar practices. However, the antitrust regulators reduced NBCUniversal's fine by 30% as a noble gesture since the company cooperated with the regulators during the investigations.