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South Park creators accuse HBO Max of stiffing them on fees

PARAMOUNT Global and the creators of South Park fired back at Warner Bros Discovery, Inc. in a legal dispute over streaming rights for the cartoon comedy series, saying Warner filed its breach-of-contract claim to avoid paying tens of millions of dollars in licensing fees it owes.

Warner sued in February, alleging Paramount conspired with South Park Studios, its joint venture with show creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, along with MTV Entertainment Studios to keep South Park content out of a $500 million deal Warner’s HBO Max signed for exclusive streaming rights. Paramount sought to block the content to help support its own new streaming service, Warner claimed.

South Park Studios “held up its end of the bargain” and delivered its existing library of more than 300 episodes, a documentary, and three more seasons as well as other content including behind-the-scenes footage, according to the countersuit filed Wednesday last week in New York state court. But Warner “apparently began to regret the actual terms of the deal it made” and began demanding content not owed to it under the agreement, Paramount, MTV, and the show’s creators said in their complaint.

“When South Park Studios did not give in to the baseless demands that South Park Studios deliver new television episodes that did not even exist and made-for-streaming movies that WarnerMedia has no right to license, WarnerMedia decided to withhold payment of the license fees for the content it had actually licensed and was exploiting,” according to the countersuit.

Warner currently owes $52 million, and is obligated to pay $225 million over the rest of its existing deal, Paramount said.

In an e-mailed statement Thursday, HBO Max said “Paramount and South Park Digital Studios embarked on a multi-year scheme of unfair trade practices and deception, flagrantly and repeatedly breaching our contract, which clearly gave HBO Max exclusive streaming rights to the existing library and new content from the popular animated comedy South Park.”

HBO Max announced in October 2019 it had won the exclusive streaming rights to South Park, with all 23 seasons of the show available on the service and three new seasons to debut 24 hours after premiering on Comedy Central. HBO said the deal, which ran from June 2020 to June 2025, included payments of about $1.7 million for each of the 333 episodes.

But in August 2021, Paramount Global, formerly known as Viacom CBS, signed a $900-million deal with the show’s creators, in which they would produce a series of specials for its own streaming service, Paramount+. Two months later, Paramount+ and MTV announced the exclusive premier of two South Park Post-COVID “events,” which HBO alleges violated its contract.

South Park, which has aired for 26 years, is one of the longest-running shows in TV history. It has outlived every program on Comedy Central except for The Daily Show.

Earlier this month, Warner said it was renaming its streaming service to Max, dropping HBO from the brand. — Bloomberg

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