South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone have signed a revenue-sharing deal with executives at Viacom-owned Comedy Central, their long-time television network, according to a New York Times article on Sunday.
This continues a shake-up in the way big-media works, the latest in a trend giving more power to artists — and less to the big media companies, as we wrote last week. Normally, television owners keep revenues, and separately negotiate payment with artists. In their deal, Parker and Stone get a cut of the proceeds from wherever the show appears — be it on the net, mobile platforms or video games.
South Park is popular for skewering celebrities and status quo ideas. It has spread virally over the internet without Viacom getting paid — most famously through free, full-length episodes. The show’s libertarian creators have said they are in favor of free downloads of episodes because it helps more people watch the show– which of course is contradicted by this latest deal.
It is a deal both parties describe as “attempting to leapfrog to the vanguard of Hollywood’s transition into Web.” Or, as South Park’s lawyer said, a demonstration to new video-entertainment start-ups (think YouTube et al.) that they’ll have to pay premiums for top content creators.
Parker and Stone originally retained the rights to a percentage of revenue brought in by non-cable distribution channels — the web, mobile devices and video games — due to a subtle clause signed as part of a contract renewal between the parties during the dot-com bust years.
The caustic duo are guaranteed advances from profits on merchandise, DVDs, international sales and methods of syndication. The agreement will also include a talent studio called SouthParkStudios.com. The deal is worth $75 million to the two creators over the next four years, the article says; the show has already made hundreds of millions for Viacom.
Doug Herzog, president of MTV, was realistic:
“The landscape has shifted dramatically,” Herzog said. “The way of the Web seems to be, there’s a very low barrier to entry, so you don’t need, necessarily, a major media company to be in business, or a movie studio, or whatever it is – you just need to be able to set up shop and go. You’re seeing a lot of guys doing this, funnyordie.com being the best example.” (Funnyordie.com was started this year by the comic actor Will Ferrell and his production partner, Adam McKay.)