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Warner Bros. Discovery Files Lawsuit Against Paramount Over ‘South Park’ Streaming Rights

WBD has accused Paramount Global of breaking the terms of a 2019 licensing deal that put the Comedy Central series on HBO Max.

"South Park Vaccination Special" Comedy Central South Parq

“South Park Vaccination Special”

Courtesy of Comedy Central

In a rare case of Warner Bros. Discovery trying to add content to HBO Max, the company has filed a lawsuit against Paramount Global regarding the streaming rights to Comedy Central’s “South Park.” The case was filed Friday in the New York State Supreme Court, according to documents obtained by IndieWire, and also targets Paramount’s subsidiaries MTV Entertainment Studios and South Park Digital Studios.

The suit accuses Paramount Global, which owns both Comedy Central and “South Park,” of breaking the terms of a 2019 licensing deal between the two corporations involving Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s long-running satirical animated series.

In a statement to IndieWire, a representative of Paramount Global said they believe the claims are “without merit,” and accused WBD of failing to pay licensing fees owed to Paramount for “South Park” episodes streaming on HBO Max.

“We believe these claims are without merit and look forward to demonstrating so through the legal process,” the statement reads. “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.”

The $500-million 2019 deal put the entirety of “South Park’s” library, which currently consists of over 300 episodes and the 1999 “Bigger, Longer & Uncut” film, exclusively on HBO Max. New episodes of the show air on Comedy Central before debuting on the WBD streamer the next day. However, in 2021 Paramount signed a $900-million deal with Parker and Stone that, in addition to renewing the show at Comedy Central through 2027 for 30 seasons, also greenlit a series of 14 special episodes that would debut on their streamer Paramount+. So far, four of these specials have premiered on the streamer, including 2021’s “Post Covid” and last year’s “The Streaming Wars” two-parter.

In their suit, Warner Bros. Discovery alleges that these Paramount+ exclusive specials break the terms of their licensing deal, accusing Paramount of engaging in a “multi-year scheme” that was “blatantly intended to prop up Paramount+ at the expense of Warner/HBO.”

“We believe that Paramount and South Park Digital Studios embarked on a multi-year scheme of unfair trade practices and deception, flagrantly and repeatedly breaching our contract, which clearly gave HBO Max exclusive streaming rights to the existing library and new content from the popular animated comedy South Park,” a representative for HBO Max said in a statement to IndieWire.

According to the suit, the understanding of the 2019 deal was that 30 episodes from the show’s upcoming Seasons 24, 25, and 26 would stream exclusively on HBO Max along with the show’s library of past episodes. However, said seasons, produced along with the Paramount+ specials, had far less episodes than those in the past; Season 24 consisted of two episodes, while Seasons 25 and the ongoing Season 26 both consist of six episodes.

The suit alleges that the new episodes are more valuable than the old ones, and WBD overpaid for less original content than was promised. It also accuses Paramount of engaging in “verbal trickery” — including initially marketing the special episodes as “films” — to avoid its obligations in the 2019 agreement. The lawsuit demands monetary damages for Warner Bros. Discovery “equal to all damages incurred as a result of Defendant’s wrongful misconduct, including but not limited to compensatory damages, consequential damages, and disgorgement of all profits,” totally up to $200 million dollars.

Variety was the first to report on the suit from Warner Bros. Discovery.

Brian Welk contributed reporting.

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