‘South Park’ Sets Off Legal Battle for Hundreds of Millions

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It’s a tumultuous time for Eric Cartman and the gang. On Friday, Warner Bros. Discovery filed a lawsuit against Paramount Global in New York State Supreme Court over the $500 million South Park licensing deal the two companies signed in 2019. The company alleges that Paramount breached the contract on multiple levels, costing WBD “hundreds of millions of dollars in damages.”

The suit places the total damages at $200 million, with causes of action including breach of contract (against South Park Digital Studios), unjust enrichment (against Paramount and MTV), and tortious interference with contract (against Paramount and MTV.)

In 2019, when Paramount first struck the South Park deal, HBO Max was still owned by AT&T. The deal granted HBO Max the rights to South Park’s massive library, as well as new episodes. Warner Bros. Discovery now alleges that rather than deliver on its promise of three new seasons, each spanning 10 episodes, Paramount delivered only 16 episodes in total. And in 2021, the Paramount-owned MTV announced its own $900 million deal for exclusive South Park special episodes—all of which would land on Paramount’s own streaming service, Paramount+.

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A copy of Warner Bros. Discovery’s complaint reviewed by The Daily Beast alleges that once Paramount chose to launch Paramount+, “its priorities changed drastically, and Defendants embarked on a multi-year scheme to unfairly take advantage of Warner/HBO by breaching its contract and stealing its content.” The lawsuit quotes a Paramount+ executive who allegedly said in 2021 that “[f]ranchising marquee content like South Park” was “at the heart” of the strategy to grow the streaming platform.

The complaint further states that Paramount, along with South Park Digital Studios, “engaged in a campaign of verbal trickery” to get around their pact. “To accomplish this, Defendants used grammatical sleight-of-hand, characterizing new content as ‘movies,’ ‘films,’ or ‘events’ …”

A representative for Paramount Global told Indiewire that the company looks forward to proving that Warner Bros. Discovery’s claims “are without merit.”

The statement adds: “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.”

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