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Warner Bros. Discovery sues Paramount over 'South Park' streaming rights

The owners of HBO Max and Paramount+ are now fighting over exclusives.

South Park Studios/Paramount Global

If the Paramount+ South Park movie deal seemed odd when HBO Max scored an exclusive for the series, you're not alone. Warner Bros. Discovery (WBD) has sued Paramount Global for allegedly breaching parts of the $500 million contract that gave HBO Max streaming rights for South Park in 2019. WBD claims Paramount "blatantly intended" to steer users toward its service by not only offering new specials, but by shortchanging the HBO service on promised regular season content.

HBO Max was reportedly promised three new seasons with 10 episodes each. However, the provider says it only got eight episodes across the two delivered seasons, and that the next season's six episodes also fall short. On top of this, Paramount supposedly used "verbal trickery" to rebrand content as movies or events to avoid sending video to its competitor.

In a statement to Engadget, Paramount claims the lawsuit is "without merit." It also maintains that it's still honoring the contract despite Warner supposedly failing to pay licensing fees for already-delivered South Park episodes. We've asked WBD for comment.

The lawsuit isn't shocking. WBD, previously WarnerMedia, was determined to amass as much content as possible for HBO Max ahead of its 2020 launch, including Friends and Doctor Who. Whether or not Paramount violated its contract, the South Park content on Paramount+ diminishes HBO Max's content advantage — you no longer have to use that service if you want to stream the recent adventures of Cartman and crew.

Paramount, meanwhile, has multiple reasons to contest the lawsuit. Paramount+ is thriving even as rivals like Netflix run into trouble, having topped 43 million users as of last spring. While it's unclear how much of a role South Park is playing in that growth, the company may not want to give up streaming rights for one of its best-known shows (Paramount owns Comedy Central, remember) without a fight.