the streaming wars

Warner Bros. Discovery Sues Paramount Over South Park Licensing Deal

Photo: Comedy Central

The girls are fighting over … South Park? The girls in question are Paramount Global and Warner Bros. Discovery, as the latter filed a lawsuit against the former for revoking parts of their original 2019 licensing deal valued at roughly $550 million. The deal was a landmark agreement for (then) WarnerMedia right before it launched HBO Max in 2020. Since the deal and HBO Max’s launch, Paramount Global rolled out its own streaming service (Paramount+) in 2021, causing licensing headaches for the pair. Today, Variety posted the 25-page suit, in which Warner Bros. Discovery claims that Paramount Global “embarked on a multi-year scheme to unfairly take advantage of Warner/HBO by breaching its contract and stealing its content.”

As reported in our own Buffering in 2022, the South Park library isn’t expected to return exclusively to the platform until its 2025 expiration date with HBO Max. Despite that, Paramount+ has debuted a handful of specials, including South Park: The Streaming Wars (apt!), due to a separate $900 million deal made with South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone and MTV — owned by Paramount, for those keeping score — to create 14 exclusive made-for-streaming films. “We have fuck you money now,” the lawsuit quotes Stone as having publicly said. Warner alleges that the arrangement engaged in “verbal trickery designed to circumvent” their 2019 deal. The lawsuit goes on to say, “Defendants used grammatical sleight-of-hand, characterizing new content as ‘movies,’ ‘films,’ or ‘events’ to side-step” their contract.

Part of Warner Bros. Discovery’s argument is that, in addition to exclusively owning the South Park library, the company was entitled to “30 new episodes for upcoming seasons 24, 25, and 26 (more than 300 episodes in all).” Currently, seasons 24–26 of South Park have a combined 13-episode count — the show’s shortest seasons yet. Season 26 is still airing but is only expected to premiere six episodes total. The lawsuit states that South Park Digital Studios “knew that the older ‘library’ episodes of South Park were far less valuable than new episodes” and “thus, SPDS’s representation of 10 new episodes per season was essential to the bids made by Warner/HBO and other bidders.” According to Variety, Paramount denies Warner Bros. Discovery’s allegations, even stating that HBO Max has “failed and refused to pay license fees that it owes to Paramount.”

Warner Bros. Discovery Sues Paramount Over South Park