Back in 2008, Matt Parker and Trey Stone earned lots of Internet praise for putting every one of their “South Park” episodes online, for free, on their own site.

But that was then!

Now Parker and Stone are moving their shows behind a paywall: Starting this fall, if you want to see the entire “South Park” catalog, you’ll need to subscribe to Hulu’s “Hulu Plus” service. New episodes of the show, as well as a couple dozen repeats, will remain up for free on Hulu and the South Park Studios site.

There’s not a lot to analyze here, because the equation is pretty simple: Hulu needs exclusive content to convince people to pay $8 a month for its subscription service. And the “South Park” guys think Hulu’s deal will make them more money than they were getting from ads on the old site.

People who should know what they are talking about tell David Carr the deal is worth at least $80 million over three years. For context, Hulu paid Viacom — which also airs “South Park” — more than $40 million over two years in order to keep Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert back in 2011.

The notion that online video subscription services will have exclusive content — just like TV networks do — is old news at this point. Netflix has “House of Cards,” “Orange is the New Black” and in a bit, all of the new Disney movies. Amazon has its originals, and now (most of) HBO’s back catalog.

Whether Hulu, backed by TV networks that have often expressed ambivalence or worse about the service, will really be able to compete for its own exclusives is an open question. We’re still waiting for a tentpole series the company can call its own, and it may take a long time before we see one. So for now, Kenny and crew will have to do.

Oh, and if you don’t want to pay to see old “South Park” episodes? I’m assuming you can still find them quite easily via illegal means, just like Stone and Parker said you could back in 2008: “We got really sick of having to download our own show illegally all the time, so we gave ourselves a legal alternative”, they told everyone who asked.

Let’s see what happens when that alternative goes away this fall.



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