NEW YORK – Warner Bros. Discovery Inc. Paramount Global is suing, saying its rival aired new episodes of the popular animated comedy series “South Park” after it paid Warner for the exclusive rights.
Warner says it signed a contract in 2019 paying more than $500 million for the rights to existing and new episodes of the irreverent show, according to a lawsuit filed Friday in New York State Supreme Court.
HBO Max, Warner’s streaming platform, was scheduled to receive the first episodes of the new “South Park” season in 2020. But the company was informed that the pandemic halted production, according to the lawsuit.
Despite Warner’s exclusive rights to the show through 2025, the company alleges that South Park Digital Studios, which produces the shows and is named as a defendant in the lawsuit, provided two pandemic-themed specials to Paramount, which aired in September 2020 and March 2021.
The lawsuit alleges that the pandemic specials should have been offered to Warner under the initial contract. The move, called “verbal deception” in the lawsuit, sent fans of the show to rival Paramount’s platform. Nearly all episodes of South Park premiere on Comedy Central, one of Paramount’s cable channels, the lawsuit says.
Show creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker, who launched the show in 1997 and have overseen the franchise, are not named in the lawsuit.
Acquiring broadcast rights to “South Park” is a competitive process because of the lucrative market that attracts more subscribers, advertisers and the loyal fan base that Warner’s lawsuit says is made up mostly of young adults.
The 24-page court filing also refers to a $900 million deal in 2021 between a Paramount subsidiary and South Park Digital Studios for exclusive content on the Paramount Plus streaming service, which launched the same year.
Warner claims the deal was a deliberate “scheme” between Paramount, its subsidiary MTV Entertainment Studios and South Park Digital Studios to “shove as much of the new South Park content as possible over to Paramount Plus in order to further the emerging streaming platform”.
Warner paid $1,687,500 per episode and claims it has not yet received all episodes covered by the contract, resulting in more than $200 million in damages.
Paramount Global did not immediately respond to emails from The Associated Press seeking comment on the lawsuit.
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