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WBD sues Paramount over ‘South Park’ rights

A still image from the 23rd season of South Park. (Photo: Viacom/South Park Studios/Handout)

Warner Bros Discovery (WBD) has filed a lawsuit against Paramount Global over the popular adult animated sitcom “South Park.”

The lawsuit, filed in New York state court on Friday, concerns WBD’s exclusive domestic streaming rights to the show, which is distributed via the HBO Max service. WBD’s then-parent company, AT&T, paid $500 million to Paramount Global and South Park Studios to grab the exclusive domestic streaming rights to South Park from Disney’s Hulu, a deal that is supposed to be locked in until early 2025.

Despite the deal, in 2021, Paramount announced it had struck a deal with South Park Studios for the production of more than a dozen specials to be streamed exclusively on Paramount Plus. Those specials began streaming last year.

The specials are not aired on Comedy Central, the Paramount-owned cable network that has offered new and repeat episodes of South Park since 1997, nor are they made available to HBO Max as part of the company’s licensing deal for the South Park television program.

And therein lies the issue.

According to WBD’s lawsuit, Paramount’s $900 million deal with South Park Studios for the specials — which Paramount is careful to classify as “events” or “films,” and not “episodes” — was struck in part to circumvent the licensing deal with HBO Max.

Paramount also fell short of its licensing obligations by at least 10 new episodes per season through 2025, the lawsuit alleges, and overcharged for an hour-long “pandemic special” that was aired on Comedy Central during the global coronavirus health crisis.

A spokesperson for Paramount rejected those allegations, asserting WBD’s “claims are without merit,” and complaining that WBD “has failed and refused to pay license fees that it owes to Paramount for episodes that have already been delivered, and which HBO Max continues to stream.”

While WBD has allegedly stopped paying licensing fees for South Park, the show remains available to stream on HBO Max as of Saturday morning, and new episodes of South Park are still appearing on HBO Max about one day after they’re broadcast on Comedy Central.

WBD is hoping the matter can be resolved financially, and has asked the federal court to bring the issue to trial. The company is demanding “significant monetary damages” for what it believes is Paramount’s breach of contract over the cartoon.

Paramount is expected to reclaim rights to South Park when the deal with WBD ends in 2025, with executives affirming the show will move to Paramount Plus exclusively from that point on.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said the lawsuit brought by Warner Bros Discovery against Paramount Global was filed in federal court. It was filed in New York state court.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is a nationally-recognized, award-winning journalist who has covered the business of media, technology, radio and television for more than 10 years. He is the publisher of The Desk and contributes to Know Techie, Digital Content Next and StreamTV Insider. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, the Walt Disney Company, McNaughton Newspapers and Tribune Broadcasting.
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