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Warner Bros. Discovery Finally Shows Interest In an Animated Series in Petty Lawsuit Over ‘South Park’ Streaming Rights

Let the corporate cage match BEGIN!

the "cast" of South Park and their neverending list of characters

There has been much chaos since the Warner Bros. and Discovery merger in 2022. The genre hardest-hit by the merger has, without a doubt, been animation. Shortly after the merger, HBO Max pulled massive amounts of content from its platform—most of which were animated shows. Any active shows pulled from streaming were also cancelled—many with finished episodes that will never see the light of day. More up-and-coming animators than I can enumerate had their projects cancelled. Beloved series like Infinity Train were not only removed from streaming, but entirely wiped from Cartoon Network’s social media.

It’s an obvious trend which showcases an obvious disregard for the medium of animation, and creators and fans alike have spoken out. But, this week, we found out that there is exactly one animated series which HBO Max cares about: South Park. Warner Bros. Discovery is suing Paramount, essentially alleging that Paramount+ stole South Park from HBO Max. Especially when you hold in mind everything I’ve just told you about how Warner Bros. Discovery, everything about this story is ridiculously petty. And hilarious, in a cynical sort of way.

Dueling deals for rights to South Park

As reported by Variety and The Verge, Warner Bros. Discovery filed the lawsuit in New York state Supreme Court. In 2019, they paid $1.6 million each for the licensing rights to the over 300 episodes which comprise South Park‘s entire library. The deal also included 30 new episodes, which was understood to be the next three seasons. The deal would end in June 2025. Warner Bros. alleges that South Park Digital Studios (SPDS, the studio that makes South Park, owned by co-creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone) has fallen short.

Meanwhile, South Park signed a $900 million deal with Paramount+ in August 2021. Comedy Central, the channel South Park airs on, is owned by Paramount. But also, this was only a few months after Paramount+ launched, and one exec has been quoted in saying the deal would specifically help fuel Paramount+. The agreement also says South Park will be exclusively on Paramount+ after its deal with HBO Max ends.

The Paramount deal also included 14 “made for streaming” movies. South Park has already released four. By contrast, of the 30 episodes HBO Max was supposed to receive, only eight have been delivered. The upcoming third season, which was supposed to finish out the order, will only have eight.

Warner Bros. Discovery airs their greivances

Warner Bros. Discovery likes none of this. The lawsuit says that this Paramount deal “blatantly intended to prop up Paramount+ at the expense of Warner/HBO.” Which, to their credit, does seem correct. Capitalism! Whoever pays more, gets more, baby!

Stone knows this. He’s amazingly on record in the aftermath the Paramount deal as saying, “We have ‘fuck you’ money now.” Every once and a while, I’m reminded that do love South Park.

The lawsuit only gets pettier from there. Warner Bros. Discovery says Paramount “induced” South Park to break its previous contract, “steal[ing their] valuable streaming rights.” They accuse Paramount of “multiple and flagrant duplicitous contortions of fact and breaches of contract,” “verbal trickery,” and “grammatical sleight-of-hand.” The “sleight-of-hand” bit alleges that the content South Park is making for Paramount+ is being sold as ” ‘movies,’ ‘films,’ or ‘events’ to side-step SPDS’s contractual obligations.” Which appears to be true. Still … “verbal trickery”?

The corporation cage match begins

Like a lame boyfriend in a corny 90s film, Warner Bros. Discovery really wants to win South Park back. The lawsuit says that “the South Park franchise is anchor content on any platform, and therefore central to the branding and marketing for any distributor of the Series.” In turn, the lawsuit joyfully points out, these offerings “increase subscribers and subscription fees, as well as draw in advertisers.”

This is where the irony gets rich. I understand that South Park is one of the biggest and longest-running franchises in American TV. But this, coming from the same streaming service that mercilessly wiped animated content with dedicated followings, like Infinity Train and OK KO? It’s a bit hard to swallow.

But wait, it gets even more ridiculous. Because a Paramount Global spokesperson issued a statement to Variety that is truly the perfect cherry on top of this story. I’m going to bold my favorite part of this statement for you.

We believe these claims are without merit and look forward to demonstrating so through the legal process. 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.

OH SHIT! Paramount fired back! Where the hell is my popcorn?!

So, maybe this lawsuit will just turn into something kind of depressing, like many of the other stories around how the merger of Warner Bros. and Discovery affects content. But maybe, just maybe, it will be a highly-entertaining petty cage match between two bloated corporations who are too big for their own good.

And, blissfully, it’s over South Park, a series known for skewering anything and everything. A series whose latest “movies” (wink wink, HBO Max!) are called The Streaming Wars, but the “stream” is question is using pee as water during a drought. Couldn’t be happening to a better series. I cannot wait.

But, hey, if Warner Bros. somehow does win, maybe they’ll use their newfound millions to put all of those animated series back on HBO Max and pay those creators the rights they’re due … You’re right, I should just anticipate the South Park episode.

(Featured image: Comedy Central)

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Kirsten (she/her) is a musician, audio person, writer, and nerd. When not talking about One Piece or Zelda (among other anime and games), she's finding surprising ways to play the guitar.