“Screw you guys, we’re going to sue,” a Cartman paraphrasing Warner Bros Discovery essentially said to Paramount Global and the series creators today in a scathing lawsuit over South Park streaming rights.
“This is a case about Defendants’ opportunistic repudiation of Warner/HBO’s exclusive streaming rights in the popular animated comedy series South Park, for which Warner/HBO agreed to pay more than half a billion dollars,” the breach of contract and other claims suit filed in New York says of the big bucks 2019 deal the parties struck. “As a result of Defendants’ misconduct, Warner/HBO has incurred, and continues to incur, damages in excess of $200 million dollars,” the jury seeking complaint adds (read it here).
Drilling deep into the core of the streaming wars and the battle for subscribers that Paramount+ and HBO Max continue to wage, the 24-page filing unveils alleged pandemic and “grammatical sleight-of-hand” moves, an “illicit conspiracy,” and “verbal trickery” on the part of the Bob Bakish-run conglomerate, chief content officer Chris McCarthy and South Park Digital Studios.
Paramount Global says, no, and actually you owe us some dough.
“We believe these claims are without merit and look forward to demonstrating so through the legal process,” a spokesperson for the company told Deadline Friday. “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.”
Back in pre-pandemic era, when newly minted streamers seemingly went around with bags of money in the search for content, then WarnerMedia picked up the entire 23-season South Park vault plus a trio of new seasons in a competitive bid race. The multi-year licensing deal over the Comedy Central satire, as closed with the then Viacom and South Park Digital Studios, a joint venture between Viacom and South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone.
Two years later, as Parker and Stone inked a reported $900 million “f—k you money” deal with the then ViacomCBS, there was a shift in the fine print, it seems.
In short, WBD allege that in 2021 Paramount Global, SPDS and MTV Entertainment Studios carved out an apparent loophole in the wide-ranging 2019 $500 million agreement with now David Zaslav-run company that would permit them to hold on to new seasons of South Park and over a dozen so-called “original movies” based on the series. Further adding insult to injury, Paramount+ announced last year that South Park’s library would move to the streamer in 2025, with new episodes appearing there starting in 2024.
“It had become evident that Paramount sought to use the Post-COVID Content to boost Paramount+’s subscribership, in flagrant disregard of Warner/HBO’s contractual rights,” the suits from WBD’s NYC-based Walden Macht & Haran attorneys states. “Moreover, on information and belief, Paramount and SPDS deliberately characterized the Post-COVID Content as ‘events’ rather than ‘episodes’ in a disingenuous attempt to distinguish them from the Pandemic Specials provided to Warner/HBO under the 2019 Agreement,” it goes on to say.
“Thus, on information and belief, Defendants engaged in a simple and obvious artifice of mischaracterizing the content to avoid obligations under both the 2019 and 1998 Agreements. SPDS’s failure to offer Warner/HBO the option to license the Post-COVID Content for HBO Max was another clear breach of the 2019 Agreement.”
Mentioning that specific $200 million figure, the suit later says its seeking punitive damages and “an award to Warner/HBO equal to all damages incurred as a result of Defendants’ wrongful conduct, including but not limited to compensatory damages, consequential damages, and disgorgement of all profits.”
To paraphrase Cartman, again: “Don’t you know the first law of physics? Anything that’s fun costs at least $200 million dollars.”
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