The streaming rights for South Park are at the center of a massive lawsuit between two services, HBO Max and Paramount+.
Warner Bros. Discovery, the parent company of HBO Max, sued Paramount Global — which owns both Paramount+ and Comedy Central, South Park’s longtime television home — Friday in a New York Supreme Court, arguing in the lawsuit that the long-running animated series violated the $500 million deal that gave HBO Max the exclusive South Park streaming rights.
The deal, agreed to in 2019, called for South Park’s entire catalog — then spanning over 23 seasons and 300 episodes — to stream exclusively on the then-new HBO Max service, which would also gain the exclusive rights to South Park’s next three seasons.
However, the Covid-19 pandemic shut down production on the television series, resulting in a much-shortened (two episodes of the usual 10) Season 24. A similarly abbreviated Season 25 (six episodes) followed in 2022, with Season 26 (reportedly six episodes again) airing now on Comedy Central/HBO Max.
As new episodes are more desirable and profitable for HBO Max than the older ones, the streaming service believes they overpaid for the exclusive rights in the 2019 contract, Variety reports.
South Park’s shortened new seasons are just one of the complaints in Warner Bros. Discovery’s lawsuit against Paramount Global. The other major issue is the fact that South Park also signed a $900 million deal with Paramount for over a dozen South Park “specials,” four of which have already premiered on Paramount+.
Warner Bros. Discovery accuses the Paramount/South Park deal of using “verbal trickery” and “grammatical sleight-of-hand” to label that cartoon content as “specials” — and thus, Paramount+ property — and not “episodes,” which would make them HBO Max exclusives.
Paramount Global denied the allegations in a statement to Variety. “We believe these claims are without merit and look forward to demonstrating so through the legal process,” a Paramount Global spokesperson said. “We also note that Paramount continues to adhere to the parties’ contract by delivering new South Park episodes to HBO Max, despite the fact that Warner Bros. Discovery 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.”
South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone were not named as defendants, those Stone was quoted in the lawsuit as saying “We have fuck you money now” following the Paramount+ deal.
Ironically, given the new lawsuit, the most recent Paramount+ specials were titled South Park: The Streaming Wars.