South Park's Matt Stone To Silicon Valley: Screw You Guys, I'm Going Hulu

from the not-really-stickin'-it-to-the-man dept

South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone have built an entire comedy empire on the back of free distribution. The pair first came to fame by circulating their animated short, The Spirit of Christmas, for free first as a popular bootleg VHS and later on the Internet. They also were among the first TV show creators to operate their own web portal to provide content for free, striking a (at the time) groundbreaking 50/50 ad revenue sharing deal with Viacom. They were the grandfathers of viral content, with free distribution leading them to the mammoth financial and critical success South Park saw at its peak, and continues to enjoy today.

So with the news that Parker and Stone have struck a new, $192 million exclusive, walled off South Park streaming deal with Hulu, it’s a little odd to see Stone suddenly forget what made much of his rise to success possible. In an interview discussing the huge Hulu deal, Stone laments how amorphous, villainous “tech guys” demanded he make his content available online, for free:

“This is now particularly satisfying,” said Stone in a recent discussion. “It comes full circle since the tech guys came to Hollywood and said you better give us your stuff for free to put online or else it will be taken from you anyway.”

The argument that “tech guys” just want everything to be free is a fairly normal response by those who don’t understand the digital economy, and are informed that you can reduce piracy by incorporating free into your business model. But again, this is a particularly weird comment coming from Stone, whose entire career foundation was built on such models (apparently begrudgingly). That freemium models help reduce piracy is something Stone appeared to understand perfectly well when talking to Boing Boing back in 2008:

“Basically, we just got really sick of having to download our own show illegally all the time. So we gave ourselves a legal alternative.”

Both Stone and Parker also seemed to perfectly understand the benefit viral, free distribution had when talking to the New York Times in 2010 about their continued success:

NY Times: You?re now about two years into the operation of your South Park Studios Web site, where just about all the content is available for free. Does the gamble seem to be paying off?

PARKER: To be honest, we don?t care about the money. We both have all the money we need. It?s really just about the survival of the show. First hearing about, O.K., we?re going to be putting everything on the Internet for free, I was like, Really? Wow, O.K. [laughs] That?s the world we live in. I?m actually surprised at how smooth the transition is going.

STONE: If we had years and years to discuss it, and we had determined what the right course of action was ? but we don?t have years and years. We?re doing the show right now in 2010, and the reality is, we have to have our show on the Internet. Would the network like it if everyone who watched it for free on the Internet actually had to pay? Yes. But it always ends up helping us when people can see the show.

Yet here we are, the better part of a decade later, with Stone clearly annoyed by what he insists is Silicon Valley’s demand that he not get paid for his hard work:

“Frankly, in the past I haven’t much liked dealing with the people from Silicon Valley. I don?t like our stuff being talked about as content. Spoons are metal and guns are metal, but they’re not the same thing. We don?t make content. We make television. And that’s now what digital understands it has to pay for.”

Arguing that “content” is a reductive word is understandable, but this narrative that ambiguous “digital” enemies in Silicon Valley don’t want to pay for television programming is odd, since “digital” has been paying an arm and a leg for content since inception. Netflix, for example, is expected to spend as much as $5 billion in 2016 on programming, making the streaming operator the second largest content buyer behind ESPN. Does that strike you as a “digital” industry that doesn’t think there’s a price tag for quality television? Perhaps Stone is just developing a nasty case of “get the hell off my lawn” and no longer has the best memory, perched as he is upon precariously-leaning towers of money.

Streaming companies, broadcasters, and content creators alike also don’t appear to understand the potential pitfalls these exclusive streaming arrangements create. While 2015 has been a banner year for the evolution of internet video by any standard, there’s been a troubling rise in not only exclusive content deals (Hulu, owned by Comcast/NBC, also shelled out $160 million for exclusive streaming rights to Seinfeld), but also standalone streaming services from every broadcaster under the sun (even those B-grade schlock masters over at Lifetime), each of which is going to be eager to lock their own content down exclusively to keep it out of the hands of more successful third-party operators.

While streaming operators might correctly believe that having exclusive access to select programming can lure customers in the short run, fracturing the content availability landscape in such a fashion could have some nasty downsides. Making consumers hunt and peck their way through an endless variety of $7 to $40 streaming packages for what they want might easily drive annoyed consumers back to piracy (something we’ve been saying for years). Streaming operators also risk driving those users back to cable if the industry ever wakes up and decides to offer a more uniform value proposition. Right now that’s not a risk, since cable execs are still obliviously raising rates in the face of increased competition; but it will be.

Internet video was supposed to be something different and better, built on the legacy dinosaur bones of an industry obsessed with turf protection and utterly terrified of disruption. There were notable lessons learned during internet video’s rise during this period; hopefully they’re not all mysteriously and suddenly forgotten just as internet video starts reaching its true potential and the money truly begins to flow.

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Comments on “South Park's Matt Stone To Silicon Valley: Screw You Guys, I'm Going Hulu”

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Whoever says:

Same old story: gets rich, feels entitled

It’s obvious that people who let morals, respect or history get in the way of what they do, do not get rich through their work.

It’s obvious that even people who come from poor backgrounds but get rich later (I have no idea if this applies to Matt Stone) feel entitled when they are rich.

Anonymous Coward says:

Well, they are leaving the field free for the next generation of cartoon creators to use the Internet to become even more famous than they were. The next generation several advantages, like free software for creating their cartoons, computers than can deal with the rendering, and a well known distribution channel called youtube. All the next generation of cartoonist have to worry about is telling their stories, and attracting their audience.

Anonymous Coward says:

That was then, this is now. When starting, different methods apply. And people change when are rich. What's difficult to understand?

Similarly, when new areas of industry open up — hula hoops, pet rocks, personal computers, teh internets, whatever — it’s often literally lawless, but when survive the fad phase, regulations are put in place.

Like so much else, this is entirely predictable, yet you write them up every time as if ignorant of history and human nature.

Gwiz (profile) says:

Re: Re: That was then, this is now. When starting, different methods apply. And people change when are rich. What's difficult to understand?

There are regulations on pet rocks? Do you have to get them spayed and neutered now?

Yeah, Blue actually gave a little chuckle with that one.

The regulations concerning pet rocks are the exact same regulations we always have had concerning any rock since, well pretty much forever. Don’t hit other people in the head with them, don’t trow them through other people’s windows, etc.

ottermaton (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 ever wonder why the subjects are so long?

Seriously. Did you ever wonder why this troll’s comments have a really long subject/title? Here’s a pretty good possibility:

He knows his ramblings are gonna get flagged. I mean, they never make any sense, so why wouldn’t they? But (and I gotta give him credit here) he knows enough to put whichever dead horse he wants to beat that day in the subject. That way he knows that despite being flagged he’s gonna get “his message” out because people can’t help themselves and reply to him and keep his title intact.

It’s really kind of sad.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: That was then, this is now. When starting, different methods apply. And people change when are rich. What's difficult to understand?

hula hoops, pet rocks, personal computers, teh internets, whatever, whatever — it’s often literally lawless,

While anarchy is lawless in a sense, it often far from criminal, so citations please if you are implying criminal activity. Innovators creating businesses that subsequently fail is a characteristic of new markets, and is how they evolve. When heavy regulation and laws comes in innovation almost ceases, as shown by the RIAA/MPAA members.

orbitalinsertion (profile) says:

Re: Bwahahahaha

Noting the same old stupid history and human nature. And how stupid and ineffectual it is the 5 billionth time as it was the first. And what makes you think these things are not deeply understood at Techdirt? It’s kind of a core point of the whole enterprise.

but then, we hear the same stuff in other sectors of human behavior. “You are stupid for discussing it, it will never change, and there are (god did it / evolutionary / socioeconomic) reasons that things are the way they are and you should accept / embrace the current status quo. And besides, I didn’t actually read what you wrote.”

Sure, people act like that. Even more act like you. Which gives the high end minority their power.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: That was then, this is now. When starting, different methods apply. And people change when are rich. What's difficult to understand?


Let’s be honest, who amongst us wouldn’t forego “free” distribution and espouse anti-piracy when you are literally offered millions of dollars.

You better bet your arse I would.

Roman (user link) says:

they picked wrong

If you’re going to declare exclusivity to a platform, Hulu is not the right one. I have a Hulu Plus subscription (as in I’m paying them my money every month) and I went to watch a South Park episode – I was greeted with about three video ads (some short, some longer) then the theme song, then two more video ads. What am I paying for exactly? Not to mention Hulu uses deprecated and unsafe legacy technology in Adobe Flash, or as I prefer, Adobe Crash.

Look if you want to be on a streaming site, be on Netflix. It isn’t perfect – it pushes DRM – but it has no ads, modern HTML5, is available on every platform I use and more. If you are a content owner and want to be exclusive on one of these types of streaming sites, Netflix is, at present, the best (and only) authorized alternative to “piracy”.

ThatDevilTech (profile) says:

XBMC all the way

Who needs to pay for streaming. I’ll just watch what I want. Granted, there is a bit of a learning curve and not EVERY show is available, the bulk of the popular shows today and in the past are available if you know where to look. We haven’t had DISH in our house in over 2, going on 3 years now.

We do have Netflix on small RCA Roku-wannabes in the kids rooms, but that’s it. We can still watch all the current shows and go back and watch the first episodes of Family Guy, American Dad, Southpark, hell ER if we wanted to. And I can watch most live sports from around the world without blackouts.

Dirk Belligerent (profile) says:

Hack Failure By 2nd Sentence

It’s pointless to bother reading so many words when the hack typing them reveals themselves utterly clueless in the second sentence.

The pair first came to fame by circulating their animated short, The Spirit of Christmas, for free on the Internet.

No. Jeez-o-fricking-Pete, NO!!!! Anyone who knows anything about the history of Matt & Trey is laughing themselves silly with head-shaking pity at your self-beclownment and lack of knowledge of how The Spirit of Christmas (aka Jesus vs Santa) was made and bootlegged primarily on VHS tapes in 1995. It was those tapes floating around Hollywood that lead to their South Park deal.

Yeesh, the audio-only MP3 format was only invented in 1995; MPEG-2 didn’t come until 1996; and most people were still on dial-up, so how exactly did Matt & Trey come “to fame by circulating their animated short…for free on the Internet”? A: They didn’t.

I get that tech media is written and consumed by millennials who believe history began when Nevermind was released, but to those who are older and have actual experiential memories because WE LIVED IT, hack crap like stuff is inexcusable and harmful to knowledge in general.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Hack Failure By 2nd Sentence

I remember watching a copy (of a copy of copy etc) of one of those tapes News Years Eve 1995, when on break from grad school. At that time, I would have happily mailed money somewhere to get a higher quality copy, even though I could have just copied it. I don’t think the internet generation can even imagine the experience of a truly underground circulation of content. (Going to shoo the kids off of my lawn now and listen to a loop of 14.4 modem sounds.)

DerekCurrie (profile) says:

Mythological Trey & Matt History...

No, Matt and Trey did NOT put their first South Park animations up on the Internet. Jesus vs. Frosty and Jesus vs. Santa were put online by other people while they were being shared around the media industry. Why is it so difficult to read Wikipedia?

As for Trey and Matt going Hulu: It’s their work. They can do what they like with it. I’m grateful they offered it for free, with ads, for so many years on the net.

JP Jones (profile) says:

Re: Mythological Trey & Matt History...

From the very Wikipedia article you quoted:

Brian Graden, Fox network executive and mutual friend, commissioned Parker and Stone to create a second short film as a video Christmas card…Graden sent copies of the video to several of his friends, and from there it was copied and distributed, including on the internet, where it became one of the first viral videos…As Jesus vs. Santa became more popular, Parker and Stone began talks of developing the short into a television series.

So, um, they circulated their short to a guy who put it online and it became one of the first viral videos, and they decided to make it into a show because of its popularity. Saying that free internet circulation of their initial short was responsible for their success is absolutely a true statement, and nowhere does it say that such circulation was unauthorized as it was done by the very person they willingly gave it to. Why is it so difficult to read Wikipedia?

And you’re right, it’s their work, and they can do what they want with it. It’s only going to reduce their overall viewership, end up making them less money, and increase piracy rates.

Or are you so naïve you believe that putting the episodes on Hulu Plus is going to make a bit of difference?

Hephaestus (profile) says:

Matt Stone To Silicon Valley: Screw You Guys, I’m Going Hulu

Silicon Valley To Matt Stone: Enjoy the kool aid…

Please note: You contract does not cover, various forms of streaming not mentioned in the contract, licencing on VR platforms, BCI (Brain Computer Interfaces), Memory Implants, Personal Memory uploads, etc. It also includes licencing payment exceptions for, but not limited to, foreign nations, other worlds, in earth orbit, and 300 plus other loosely worded exceptions.


GEMont (profile) says:

Requim - now 20% off retail price

Money will make a saint into a devil.
Absolutely guaranteed.

Remember Google. “Don’t be Evil.”

The greater your pile of cash, the more money, time and effort you have to spend on simply protecting it from others.

Soon, “others” become the enemy and protecting your money is pretty much all you do beside make more of it.

And of course, the more of it you make, the more you need to protect it from others and the more it costs to protect it, thus necessitating the need to make even more of it just to protect what you already have.

As much as we all love the stuff, it is indeed the primary cause of all human civilization failures – barring natural disasters – and apparently, always will be, until the final civilization fails and all that is left of the human race, is a planet covered with vaults full of gold and paper currency and a billion traps to protect the vaults from ghosts.

Chilling Farts says:

this content is not available in your country

Years ago i hated lack of channels on cable suscriptions and “exclusive” channels on some of them.

Now with internet i saw the same crap. I dropped Netflix due to lack of content (without using VPN) and high resources needed to see a crappy 240p movie (and chopping frames).

Crackle is the only “legit” streaming service friendly with thirld world internet. Play, pause and go work. You can see shows when you return home. However, only holds content from Sony Pictures.

Eric says:

It's all about control, and they're not wrong for wanting it

Perhaps it’s that you don’t understand where they’re coming from, not that they don’t understand the digital industry. I think it’s about control. They want control of where their work gets distributed. Others aren’t entitled to their content simply because they are okay with content being streamed for free on their own site. South Park has been all about control from day 1. Their deal with Comedy Central for 50/50 shared revenue and full in-house production is pretty groundbreaking. But they get to have a say, and they get to make money.

I certainly feel there’s more of an honesty to that than hosting a site that contributes zero to humanity besides sharing everyone else’s hard working and receiving infinite amounts of money from ad clicks.

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