South Park Is Caught in the Middle of a $200M Suit

Warner Bros. Discovery is suing Paramount, South Park Digital Studios over exclusivity rights
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 27, 2023 8:48 AM CST

During the peak of the pandemic, homebound Americans continued to receive a bit of comic relief thanks to South Park, which aired a couple of COVID-themed episodes to break the tension. Who's not laughing now: Warner Bros. Discovery, which is suing competitor Paramount for airing new episodes of the show after Warner Bros. says it paid for exclusive rights. Warner owns streaming platform HBO Max, and, per its complaint filed Friday in New York State Supreme Court, it says that in 2019 it signed a contract that earned it the rights to both new and existing episodes of the Trey Parker-Matt Stone show—including the first episodes for a new 2020 season, reports USA Today. Then the pandemic hit in early 2020, and production on the show halted.

In its suit, Warner alleges that South Park Digital Studios, MTV (a Paramount subsidiary), and Paramount itself—which owns Comedy Central, where South Park usually airs, and Paramount+, its new streaming service—engaged in a deliberate "scheme" and "verbal trickery" to breach Warner's $500 million exclusivity deal and instead divert new South Park content to Paramount's own nascent streaming service. Warner claims the defendants tried to circumvent the agreement by playing games with such language as "movies," "films," and "events," and in a statement, HBO Max accused Paramount and SPDS of "[embarking] on a multiyear scheme of unfair trade practices and deception," per CNN Business.

Warner says it has only received 14 new episodes of South Park, after being promised 30 over three seasons. To make matters more confusing, the lawsuit alleges that a $900 million deal struck in 2021 between SPDS and MTV offered exclusive new content to stream on Paramount+. Paramount says Warner's claims are "without merit" and that Warner hasn't yet paid licensing fees for the South Park episodes it has received and that are streaming on HBO Max, per CNN. Warner is seeking $200 million in damages, per the AV Club, which attempts to make sense of all the legalese. Check out the suit in its entirety here. (More South Park stories.)

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