Digital Deal for 'South Park'

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South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone have extended their deal with Comedy Central for three more seasons and are grabbing a piece of the digital-revenue pie, as part of a new agreement announced last week.

The pact provides for a joint venture between Parker and Stone and the network to create a digital animation studio. The hit animated show's creators have also agreed to continue doing South Park episodes through 2011.

In addition, Comedy Central will be providing the financial resources to revamp and expand SouthParkStudios.com, the official South Park fan site, which will be a major part of the new joint venture.

The expanded site is scheduled to relaunch during the first quarter of next year.

The agreement Comedy Central forged with Parker and Stone addresses what has become a hot-button issue in negotiations between talent and TV networks: divvying up revenue generated by new-media platforms, ranging from the Internet to cellphones.

In the case of the new South Park deal, the show's creators and Comedy Central will split ad revenue 50-50 from the digital joint venture, a network official confirmed last week. Stone and Parker also will get an increase in their salaries and guaranteed advances from DVDs, merchandising, international sales and syndication, The New York Times reported last week.

Doug Herzog, president of MTV Networks Entertainment Group, couldn't be reached for comment last week. But the new agreement is worth in the neighborhood of more than $75 million to Stone and Parker over the next four years, an official familiar with the deal confirmed last week.

The strategic alliance includes the formation of the new studio, South Park Digital Studios, at South Park headquarters in Los Angeles. It will serve as the new home for all digital extensions of the show's franchise, as well as an incubator for new animated projects.

Under the deal, Parker and Stone will produce an additional three seasons, at 14 episodes each season, of the Emmy and Peabody award-winning South Park. That will take the series beyond its current deal, which was set to expire at the end of 2008, to keep new episodes of the show on Comedy Central through 2011. Parker and Stone will continue to write, direct and edit every episode of South Park, as they have since the series premiered in August 1997.

South Park remains a crucial part of Comedy Central's schedule. When it debuted a decade ago, edgy South Park was the marquee show that turned into a cultural phenomenon, putting Comedy on the map as a network. Now in its 11th season, South Park averages more than 3 million viewers each premiere episode and has been the highest-rated original cable series among men 18 to 34 for four years running, according to Nielsen Media Research.

In its time slot, South Park is the No. 1 show on cable among persons 18 to 49 and the No. 1 show on all of television among men 18 to 24. New episodes of South Park will begin Oct. 3.

South Park Digital Studios will include a comprehensive production and development facility featuring an animation studio. It will serve as a home base for animation experimentation and groundbreaking animation for Parker and Stone, as well as other animators. Comedy Central will have a first-look option on any projects developed at the studio.

“Three more years of South Park will give us the opportunity to offend that many more people,” Stone said in a prepared statement. “And since Trey and I are in charge of the digital side of South Park, we can offend people on their cellphones, game consoles, and computers too. It's all very exciting for us.”

The South Park Digital Studios joint venture will also explore opportunities on gaming platforms (console, handheld, online) and be a new online home for the series that will create a Web presence looking to equal the popularity and power of the series' brand.

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