The streaming wars are heating up—and they might end up killing Kenny (sorry, we had to). Warner Brothers Discovery, the newly formed media behemoth that was spun off from AT&T, is suing Paramount Global (previously known as CBS Viacom) over South Park streaming rights. According to CNBC, Warner paid $500 million in 2019 for the rights to license the long-running show and stream in on HBOMax.
During the bidding process, Paramount requested to share rights to the show so that Paramount could also stream South Park on its platform. WBD says it rejected the proposal, and then alleges Paramount withheld special content as a result. As Variety notes, WBD accuses Paramount of engaging in "'verbal trickery' and 'grammatical sleight-of-hand,' characterizing the new content as 'movies,' 'films' or 'events' — but not 'episodes' — to avoid its obligations under the 2019 agreement."
- Paramount wrote in a statement: “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.”
- WBD responded in a statement that "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.”
Studios and streamers can withhold content from audiences, not just from each other. As The Hollywood Reporter says, streamers are pulling old TV series and films from their libraries (and even canning finished films!) to save money. "Entertainment companies have been forced to contend with consolidation, inflation, a possible recession and a constant chase for subscribers," The Hollywood Reporter continues. Streamers can "save money from not having to pay residuals to certain profit participants and talent associated with the shows if the shows were not exhibited on the streaming service,” entertainment journalist Matt Belloni recently told Marketplace.
Even streamers are penny-pinching these days. But as platforms compete for content and shuffle their libraries, it’ll set up some interesting future scenarios in which potential mergers and/or consolidation makes bedfellows of current litigants.