Warner Bros. Discovery has sued its competitor, Paramount, for $200 million. They say that Paramount cheated them out of the streaming rights to South Park, which airs on Comedy Central. There is no question that these people are angry. For a business complaint, it’s a first to have big, angry chapter titles like “THE ILLICIT CONSPIRACY EMERGES.” (Direct quotation)
Warner signed a contract with South Park Digital Studios (SPDS), the company that makes South Park, in 2019. SPDS is owned by Paramount, Trey Parker, and Matt Stone, who made the show. (Who, thanks to a smart deal they made in the early days of the internet, get to keep all of the money made from streaming the series. This has made both men billionaires.) Warner needed “anchor” programming for its then-new HBO Max streaming service, so it paid an astronomical $1,687,500 per episode for exclusive streaming rights to the show’s back catalogue and for 30 more episodes to be made in the form of three more seasons. So, yes, it probably cost more than your house is worth to get the rights to stream “Not Without My Anus.”
On the way to Season 24, however, something interesting happened: Paramount dropped its failing streaming service CBS All Access in favour of its new web brand, Paramount+. Right away, the company said that its “fresh new” streaming service will include “brand new” episodes of South Park. Please don’t make brand new episodes. That’s against the terms of the HBO Max licence. The only ones that HBO Max subscribers could watch were the 50-minute “Pandemic Special” and “Vaccination Special” from 2021. They thought about calling them “movies,” but Warner Bros. reminded Paramount that it had co-produced the real South Park movie, 1999’s Bigger, Longer, and Uncut, and still had the right to stop any more South Park movies. They stopped trying and just started calling them “events.” There have been a total of four exclusives. In 2021, Paramount+ showed Post-COVID and its sequel, and in 2022, it showed Streaming Wars Parts 1 and 2, each of which was an exclusive.
According to the lawsuit, HBO Max was also upset to learn that SPDS had decided on its own that the two 2021 specials that made it to HBO Max after airing on Comedy Central “counted” as the whole of the show’s 24th season and that Season 25, which aired in 2022, would only have 6 episodes. (Season 26, which is currently airing and is the last one in the streaming contract, will likely also be cut short.) In the lawsuit, it is said that Paramount+ was able to make a number of “events” even though SPDS said COVID slowed down and stopped production.
Warner Bros. says it paid the huge flat fee per episode in the first place because it was promised a) 30 brand-new episodes delivered on time and b) exclusive streaming rights to the show. However, neither of these things seem to have happened. They say that Paramount, SPDS (which includes Parker and Stone), and MTV broke their contract and should pay them $200 million.