If prolific producers Shonda Rhimes, Ryan Murphy and Greg Berlanti are worth a combined $900 million via their overall deals, how did Trey Parker and Matt Stone — who oversee one show, South Park, score $900 million-plus on their own?
The answer to that can be traced back to the duo’s 2007 deal with Comedy Central. At that time, Parker and Stone — along with their longtime attorney, Kevin Morris — negotiated an ad-sharing deal with the Viacom-owned cable network that gave the Colorado natives a 50-50 split with Comedy Central on all digital revenue. At the time, “digital rights” wasn’t a conversation in dealmaking. Now, as Scarlett Johansson and Disney can attest, it’s the centerpiece of every deal as media companies prioritize their in-house streaming services.
So in 2019, when HBO Max spent $550 million to be the exclusive domestic streaming home of South Park’s entire 23-season-plus library, Parker and Stone cashed in for $275 million. Fourteen years ago, receiving 50 percent of all non-TV revenue sounded absurd. Now, those digital rights — which include video games and other endeavors — along with ViacomCBS’ need to bulk up its streamer, Paramount+, have helped the creators score one of the biggest deals in TV history. Over the years, Parker and Stone have reaped their gains. Comedy Central licensed South Park to Hulu in back-to-back deals worth $87.5 million and $110 million.
The value of South Park’s library has only skyrocketed in recent years — fueled by new seasons of the series that still makes headlines in its 23rd season — as streaming services rely on hits like Friends and The Office to draw subscribers. Paramount+, the ViacomCBS-owned streamer that was rebranded earlier this year and still lags behind the year-old HBO Max despite its seven-year head start as CBS All Access, is gaining 14 made-for-streaming South Park movies as part of the all-cash Aug. 5 deal extension with Parker and Stone.
Sources say the $935 million, six-year deal includes upfront payments for the features, bonuses and a renewal that takes South Park through its 29th season. ViacomCBS — which still has to cover production costs of South Park — was in talks to buy Parker and Stone’s Park County company in a deal that sources say could have topped $1 billion and given the conglomerate full ownership of the series with a deal for lucrative international rights still to come.
“[Parker and Stone] took a mortgage instead of selling the house,” says one source with knowledge of the deal.
While Rhimes, Berlanti and Murphy each receive bonuses as their series output rises, Parker and Stone took an up-front cash payment that will keep them with ViacomCBS through 2027. Oh, and there’s another nine-figure deal on the horizon as domestic streaming rights to South Park will come up again in summer 2025 when Paramount+ — which lost out to HBO Max for the library in 2019 — will have little choice but to back up the Brinks truck to bring the hit series home.
A version of this story appeared in the Aug. 11 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.