‘South Park’ Drama: Paramount Files $50M Counterclaim Against Warner Bros.
The studio asserts WBD has refused to pay half of what is owed
Paramount Global filed a counterclaim against Warner Bros. tonight in New York seeking “more than $50 million” from the rival studio in the latest salvo over streaming rights to South Park, one of television’s most enduring and valuable libraries.
“Warner Bros. Discovery has indefensibly refused to pay more than $50 million dollars it owes for South Park content that it has undisputedly received and which HBO Max continues to air and exploit,” says a Paramount Global spokesperson. “Warner Bros. Discovery’s argument that Paramount Global was required to deliver additional South Park content is baseless and wholly unsupported by the parties’ agreement. Furthermore, it certainly does not justify WBD’s refusal to pay for immensely valuable content all of which it has received and from which it continues to profit.”
In response, a HBO Max spokesperson said, “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.”
With much fanfare, HBO Max and what was then WarnerMedia had in 2019 won the streaming rights to South Park, whose first run is on Paramount-owned Comedy Central, in a $500 million, five-year deal. The deal covered the existing 23 seasons of South Park and three new upcoming seasons of a planned 10 episodes apiece. Episodes would stream on HBO Max a day after first airing on Comedy Central.
The deal kicked off in 2020. But in February 2023, new HBO Max parent Warner Bros. Discovery filed suit against Paramount, alleging that the company had breached its contract by diverting South Park specials and other content to its own streaming service, Paramount+, which launched in early 2021.
Warners’ suit alleges that upon the launch of Paramount+, the company’s “priorities changed drastically,” and the company “embarked on a multi-year scheme to unfairly take advantage of Warner/HBO by breaching its contract and stealing its content.”
During the pandemic, SPDS (the joint venture between Paramount and South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker) produced two Covid-themed specials, which aired first on Comedy Central in late 2020 and early 2021. In August 2021, Paramount-owned MTV announced a deal with Stone and Parker, reportedly valued at $900 million, to create new South Park content including made-for-streaming films and specials exclusively for Paramount+ across five years.
Warners’ filing asserts that only 14 of the 30 episodes across seasons 24 through 26 it was promised have been delivered, and that the new content being created under the separate deal was a means to sidestep contractual obligations. (Paramount’s filing today notes that nothing in the deal terms specifies the number of episodes per season.)
According to the lawsuit filed by Paramount, HBO Max was sent 300 episodes upon close of the agreement, but halted payments midway through the $100 million-a-year, five-year deal while they continue to stream episodes on the platform (it was also in the midst of WBD’s cash flow and cost-cutting issues amid its debt repayments). By Paramount’s math, the company is only being compensated half of what it is owed for delivering 96 percent of the product.
“So in a way, it’s like someone licensing Friends, and then halfway through, [the creators'] produce a reunion special, and then [the buyer] stops paying,” says a source close to production.
Meanwhile, South Park just finished airing its 26th season on Comedy Central, which Paramount delivered to WBD, therefore, according to the filing, meeting all of its obligations. In the meanwhile, Paramount continues to pay Stone and Parker despite funds no longer incoming from WBD, which continues to air episodes. At the time of the 2019 announcement of the deal, Paramount’s half-billion-dollar pact with HBO Max marked the largest-value of a single-show library — at least, until Stone and Parker’s nearly billion-dollar deal with Paramount just two years later, a reflection of the escalating value of library and original content amid what was arguably the peak of the heated Streaming Wars.