'South Park' creators in new ad venture
The boys from that quiet little mountain town are finally going global - legitimately - on the worldwide web. South Park, the two-dimensional comedy sensation, is trying to claw back some of the revenues lost to illegal downloads and clips on the internet in an innovative new deal that could net its creators $75m (£37m) over four years.
Trey Parker and Matt Stone, who began working together for a Colorado University film class, have signed up to a joint venture with Viacom, the parent company of Comedy Central, the cable channel that South Park helped turn into an institution. As part of that deal, they will be given a half-share in advertising revenues from the show, including ads placed alongside website clips and on downloads to mobile phones and over the internet.
Viacom says the deal is an attempt to put South Park at the forefront of its digital media strategy, after several years where investors have been frustrated at the company's sluggish attempts to adapt to the internet. It created southparkstudios.com as a hub from which the owners hope to spread content from and associated with the show across other websites.
Mr Stone said that, until now, "if you're overseas and have to get an episode right away, you literally have to go to an illegal download site."
Viacom has been engaged in repeated legal skirmishes with YouTube, the video-sharing site owned by Google, which it says has allowed users to illegally upload South Park episodes to the site, in breach of its copyright. Unlike some other media companies, it has not agreed to share advertising revenue with YouTube, and instead demanded that clips be taken down and has launched a $1bn lawsuit.
After 11 seasons and a feature-length movie, South Park is still Comedy Central's best-known product and Stone and Parker have signed up for a further three years, as well as to a project to incubate other comic creations for the cable channel. The joint venture gives its creators an ownership stake for the first time.
"The idea that we're getting a little piece of it back, that's kind of an amazing thing," Mr Stone told The New York Times. "People always ask us: 'You own it, right? No? Why'd you sign that deal?' And I have to say: 'Because I was sleeping on my friend's couch.' " But after the enthusiasm, he added a comic kicker. "In five years we'll probably be going to court and fighting about it."