After months of speculation, South Park Digital Studios announced that it would stream the entire run of the series at www.southparkstudios.com free of charge starting March 25. At first glance, this appears to be a revolutionary move. However, before heaping praise on “South Park” creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, we must analyze exactly what the re-launched Web site contains.
First and foremost, the Web site provides exactly what South Park Digital Studios claims: the complete episodes of all 12 seasons of the series. Furthermore, previously unaired footage is always being added, as new episodes are featured unedited.
However, the unedited versions may be a double-edged sword. The profanities may make concerned parents even more set against “South Park,” perhaps crossing the line between what is and is not acceptable viewing for their children. On a more semantic note, the bleeps have come to define the show, just like Kenny’s muffled voice. After all, speculations about what exactly Kyle was saying before calling Cartman a fat-ass have the kind of charm that “South Park’s” more sanitized, adult-oriented cartoon counterparts, such as “The Simpsons” and “King of the Hill,” could never replicate.
Still, if parents are willing to be offended by a little foul language, chances are that they were anti-“South Park” long before the launch of www.southparkstudios.com. Furthermore, although the bleep dates back to the inception of the show, a sound that has roughly the same audio quality as an alarm clock may be easily forgotten.
Outside of added material, the presentation of the episodes has a give-and-take quality. On the positive side, the picture quality of each episode is crystal-clear. This is in stark contrast to previous Web sites that posted episodes of “South Park” illegally. Still, unlike these Web sites, which often relied on poorly captured and/or transferred footage, South Park Digital Studios obviously has access to the source material, making the optimal presentation of these episodes easy.
On the negative side, the option of watching the episodes on full screen exists in name only. Though larger than a YouTube window, the episodes can only be streamed through the Web site in a window that cannot be increased in size. Furthermore, the streaming function can become annoying, considering that it consumes excess bandwidth, while some of the aforementioned illegal Web sites circumvent this with a download function that allows individuals to watch episodes multiple times without having to be online.
Although much can be said for and against the way that “South Park” episodes are displayed on www.southparkstudios.com, taking the good with the bad, a legal alternative will always be preferred by anyone not looking to go to federal pound-me-in-the-ass prison.
As one sits and stares at free “South Park” episodes for hours on end, one may wonder, “Just how revolutionary is Parker and Stone’s decision to make ‘South Park’ available online for free?” This question may overstate Parker and Stone’s role in the decision, as you may notice that South Park Digital Studios has been credited with the decision thus far. While they were independent pioneers in the art of viral video-making in the early 1992 and 1995 “The Spirit of Christmas” “South Park” pilots, Parker and Stone have gone corporate.
Still, this change is to be expected, as the romantic image of the lone animator is all but dead. After all, “Ren & Stimpy” creator John Kricfalusi tried to rebel against his employers at Nickelodeon, and look how many episodes of “Ren & Stimpy” were produced this year. That’s right, zero.
In the end, the decision to offer “South Park” episodes online to be streamed for free was made by Parker and Stone as well as by Comedy Central – which is a division of MTV Networks, which, in turn, is a unit of Viacom – jointly. Along with all the corporate ties go all the corporate obligations. Parker and Stone are no longer young 20-somethings trying to get noticed.
As such, Viacom must adhere to previous contractual agreements. Episodes are illegal to stream from www.southparkstudios.com in such markets as the United Kingdom and Australia. Stateside, new episodes cannot be streamed until a month after they air.
In the end, the sacrifices that Parker, Stone and Viacom have had to make in order to stream full “South Park” episodes legally online are relatively small compared to the service they have provided to their fans. Unarguably, the presentation of online “South Park” episodes has shortcomings. Still, given the fact that South Park Digital Studios has made a tremendous outreach to “South Park” fans by providing this service, it is likely that if fans demand a better presentation, South Park Digital Studios will be there to answer.
Daniel Johnson is a third-year literary journalism and film and media studies double-major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.