NEW YORK (AP) — Warner Bros. Discovery Inc. is suing Paramount Global, saying its competitor aired new episodes of the popular animated comedy series “South Park” after Warner paid for 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 a new “South Park” season in 2020. But the company was informed the pandemic halted production, the lawsuit says. In spite of Warner’s exclusive rights to the show until 2025, the company alleges South Park Digital Studios, which produces the shows and is named as a defendant in the lawsuit, offered two pandemic-themed specials to Paramount, which aired them in September 2020 and March 2021.
The lawsuit claims the pandemic specials should have been offered to Warner under the initial contract. The move, called “verbal trickery” in the lawsuit, drove the show’s fans to the competing Paramount platform. Nearly all South Park episodes 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 oversee the franchise, were not named in the lawsuit. Gaining streaming rights to “South Park” is a competitive process because of the potentially lucrative market attracting more subscribers, advertisers and a loyal fan base that Warner’s lawsuit says consists mostly of young adults.
The 24-page court filing also cites 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 “divert as much of the new South Park content as possible to Paramount Plus in order to boost that nascent streaming platform.”
Warner paid $1,687,500 per episode and alleges it has not yet received all episodes covered by the contract, resulting in damages of more than $200 million. Paramount Global did not immediately respond to emails from The Associated Press seeking comment on the lawsuit.