At the same time it finds itself in the middle of a controversy about China-U.S. relations, Comedy Central’s South Park is exploring the booming streaming marketplace for established shows.
Bids for the series, now in its 23rd season, have approached $500 million, sources confirm to Deadline. Netflix, interestingly, has dropped out of the bidding, according to people familiar with the situation.
Hulu, however, which has had streaming rights to the show since 2014, is among several companies in the mix. Another active bidder is CBS, sources tell Deadline. The company is about to merge with Viacom, the home of South Park linear airings and ad-supported streams. Subscription service CBS All Access, which has millions of subscribers, would be a logical destination for the show given its status as a signature company property.
An episode of South Park, “Band in China,” this month took no prisoners in roasting the contradictory stance of U.S. entities including the NBA and Hollywood. While they espouse support for Constitutional and human rights, the episode poked fun at those values sometimes taking a back seat to the pursuit of revenue from the world’s second-largest economy. As anti-government protests continue to percolate, China predictably frowned on the episode, but it was viewed widely via pirated streams. South Park has no official license deal in China, nor do any other Comedy Central shows. Viacom has thus far escaped the blowback that has hit the NBA and companies like Apple and Activision Blizzard.
In much of the rest of the world, it is boom times for Hollywood, especially for those holding rights to a select group of established titles. Netflix, which will be losing Friends and The Office in the next few years in deals worth a collective $1 billion, put down $500 million for rights to Seinfeld starting in 2021. WarnerMedia’s HBO Max spent north of $600 million for The Big Bang Theory and in its inaugural announcement under its new name name-checked not only Friends but another catalog title, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
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“There are perhaps a dozen shows that have proven their worth in terms of drawing audiences on several different platforms,” notes one veteran syndication exec. “It’s hard to know what they will mean to streaming platforms in terms of customer acquisition or revenue. Because so much is changing in streaming right now, it’s a blue-sky time if you’re selling a show. That’s why you’re seeing such enormous deals.”
Ted Sarandos, content chief at Netflix, this week explained his reasoning for opening the checkbook for Seinfeld amid an overall shift toward original programming.
“Few titles in the history of television continue to be relevant” 30 years after their premieres, he said. Calling it “comfort viewing,” he added that Seinfeld is a “very elite show” in terms of durability.
Bloomberg had the first report on the streaming bids for South Park.
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