Warner Bros. Discovery sues Paramount over South Park streaming rights

Warner Bros. Discovery (WBD) is suing Paramount Global for streaming new episodes of the adult animation South Park after signing a deal handing exclusive rights to HBO Max.

WBD has filed a lawsuit in New York State Supreme Court stating that it paid more than $500m in 2019 for the rights to air existing and new episodes of the show on its streaming service through to 2025.

Episodes of South Park air first on Paramount-owned Comedy Central, while WarnerMedia forged a deal to pay almost $1.7m per episode for streaming rights, prior to its merger with Discovery. Its SVOD HBO Max had been due to receive the first episodes of a new season of South Park in 2020, but WBD was informed that the pandemic had halted production on the show.

However, according to the lawsuit, South Park Digital Studios, which produces the show and is named as a defendant, offered two pandemic-themed special episodes to Paramount, which were then aired in September 2020 and March 2021.

The lawsuit claims that these specials should have been offered to WBD under the 2019 contract and instead used “verbal trickery” to categorise them as movies rather than episodes so they could launch on Paramount+ instead of HBO Max. WBD said that as a result it has incurred damages “in excess of” $200m.

Additionally, WBD has claimed that a $900m agreement struck in 2021 between MTV Entertainment Studios and South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone to place 14 made-for-streaming South Park movies on Paramount+ also violate the terms of the 2019 deal.

Overall, WBD has said that it has received only 14 episodes of the 30 it was to receive under the terms of the exclusivity deal and has accused Paramount Global, South Park Digital Studios and MTV Entertainment Studios of engaging in “an illicit scheme to unfairly and deceptively divert to its nascent streaming platform South Park content belonging exclusively to Warner/HBO.”

A Paramount spokesperson said that the claims are “without merit” and said that the company looks forward “to demonstrating so through the legal process.”

They added 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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