The New York Times salivates about the deal Viacom’s Comedy Central is giving the South Park duo, but it’s hard to see what the fuss is about. $75 million split between Matt Stone and Trey Parker over four years is certainly a nice payday, but that’s relatively modest by TV standards: Regis Philbin, for instance, is clearing more than $20 million annually. The Times is also quite excited about the fact that Comedy Central will provide the two with their own website, then split any revenue 50/50. But it’s easy to give away money that doesn’t exist yet.
Better to read this as a bit of Viacom positioning: Don’t be distracted by that Google lawsuit! We get the Web! We love the Web! Or in the immodest words of exec Doug Herzog: “If this is seen as a bold stroke, all the better, because it’s going to take bold thinking to move ahead.”
The South Park deal does touch on a real issue: As networks and studios finally do figure out how to turn their shows and movies into Internet revenue streams, how will talent and other rightsholders get compensated? Hollywood is nowhere near close to figuring it out, and you can expect plenty of legal fights and labour strife as they get around to it. As a point of reference, please see the music business, which has a bona fide digital business but still can’t figure out how much to pay, say, songwriters, or what to charge Web broadcasters who want to stream a song.