It’s nothing new to observe that Trey Parker and Matt Stone tend to move pretty quickly; the duo’s flagship project, Comedy Central’s South Park, is famous for responding to the real world in something approaching real-time, a rarity in the typically glacial world of animation. A new THR report on the duo’s recent deal-making reveals another way that the pair has been quick on the draw in recent years, though—and how it’s now helped them become billionaires, after signing a $900 million deal with ViacomCBS that covers the next several years of South Park’s existence late last week.
Even in the world of celebrity showrunners—your Ryans Murphy and Shonda Rhimeseses—that number is very high, especially for a single TV show. (Even with the six seasons and multiple movies/specials, aimed at Paramount+, included in the deal, it still feels pretty minimal versus the first-look deals Murphy and Rhimes made headlines with at Netflix of late—although its worth noting that few brands going are more powerful than South Park, even now.) The THR piece focuses in on one very specific element of the South Park guys’ deals that helps explain why they’re able to command these kinds of prices: Streaming.
See, way back in 2007—i.e., just two years after the creation of YouTube, and the same year that Netflix began streaming content to its existing subscribers—Stone and Parker negotiated a deal with Viacom for South Park, one in which the media conglomerate agreed to give the creators a 50 percent stake in all future online deals for the show. In 2007, this was a functionally worthless arrangement, but you can probably see where it’s all going. For example: When WarnerMedia tossed a huge pile of money ($550 million) into the mix to secure exclusive streaming rights of South Park for HBO Max a few years back (stealing them away from Viacom’s own CBS All Access in the process), Parker and Stone got half. Which is, you know, a lot of Mexican novelty restaurants and weird deepfakes, if that’s how you want to spend your cash.
That same THR report also quotes sources who say that Stone and Parker could have walked away from the most recent deal with even more money, because ViacomCBS was apparently trying to buy their Park Country production company (and the attendant exclusive online rights to the series) outright. But the duo apparently declined, and so the show will continue on its semi-independent path—even as Stone, Parker, and company are apparently gearing up to sign another massive deal consolidating the show’s international broadcast rights. As Stone put it in a recent Bloomberg interview: “We’re proud of the fact that years ago we said, ‘Let’s put the show online and build that audience.’ What a great time to be an independent dealer.”