According to Celebrity Net Worth, Matt Stone is now worth the phenomenal sum of $700 million. Granted, you’d expect the man behind South Park to be worth a fair bit, but $700 million is a lot more than a “fair bit”. So, how exactly did Mr. Stone get quite so rich? As it turns out, the answer lies in a very valuable contract clause….
The Start of His Career
In 1992, while still a student at the University of Colorado Boulder, Stone formed a production company, Avenging Conscience, alongside buddies Trey Parker and Ian Hardin. Their first project, a three-minute trailer for a fictional film called Alferd Packer: The Musical, went down such a storm with their fellow students, they decided to push ahead with creating the full-length movie. After retitling it Cannibal! The Musical!, the group sold the film rights to Troma Entertainment – the film subsequently went on to become a cult classic, giving them instant status in the industry and the impetus to jump sticks to LA, get themselves a manager, a lawyer, and a script deal.
As it turned out, LA would prove a tougher nut to crack than Boulder, and it would be several years and numerous failed projects later until they enjoyed their first major triumph with Jesus vs. Santa, a short film that became one of the very first videos to go viral. Buoyed by their success, they decided to recreate the short as a TV series. The result was South Park.
Stone and Trey initially pitched the idea of South Park to Fox, but disturbed by the idea of a talking poo character, the studio declined to take it up. MTV, on the other hand, clearly had no problems with Mr. Hankey, and commissioned the pair to develop the first series.
In August 1997, Comedy Central broadcast the first-ever episode of South Park. The show became an instant hit, pulling in around 3.5 to 5.5 million viewers per episode and becoming one of the most-watched shows on cable TV. As Wiki notes, the merchandize proved just as popular as the show itself; by the end of 1998, Comedy Central had pulled in around $150 million in T-Shirt sales, dolls, and other merch.
By the time Trey and Stone came to negotiate their contracts in 1998, Comedy Central was so desperate not to lose them they offered a hefty slice of the merchandising rights, along with a seven-figure bonus to turn the show into a film. The movie, when it arrived the following June, was a critical and commercial smash, grossing around $83 million at the box office. Over twenty years later, the South Park brand is still going strong, and has even branched into music and video games.
When Stone and Trey negotiated their first contract with Comedy Central in 1997, they asked for something that, at that point, no one else was even thinking about… a 50% cut of any non-broadcast revenue. In that pre-YouTube era, it meant nothing. Viacom happily went along with the request, no doubt chuckling to themselves that anyone would demand something so worthless. Twenty years later, the chuckles stopped when YouTube and other streaming channels suddenly transformed that little clause into a massive payday for Stone and Trey.
When the pair (who’d also managed to wangle the right to distribute the show digitally in whatever way they wanted) decided to beat the YouTube pirates at their own game by making every episode of the show available online for free, they earned a fortune in digital ad revenue. And then along came Hulu offering $192 million (the largest amount ever offered for streaming rights at that time) for 4-year rights to their back catalog…
By this time, the execs at Viacom were no doubt ruing the day they’d signed that contract; when Stone and Trey marketed the franchise for $500 million at the end of their four years with Hulu (nabbing them each around $125 million), they must have been apoplectic. But a deal’s a deal, and despite some attempts by Viacom to find a hole in the contract, the pair’s lawyers had made it watertight.
Book of Mormon
South Park has unquestionably been a big money spinner for Stone, but his other activities haven’t exactly fallen short either. In 2006, Stone and Trey teamed up to begin work on creating a musical. The result, The Book of Mormon: The Musical of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, finally premiered on Broadway in 2011. After receiving widespread praise for almost every aspect (its plot, its score, its performances, its direction, its choreography, and pretty much everything else in between) not to mention nine Tony Awards and a Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album, Stone and Trey decided to take the show on the road. To date, it’s enjoyed two national tours, a Chicago production, and a UK production, pulling in over $500 million in worldwide ticket sales and merchandise. With a film-adaption currently in pre-production, the pair can expect even greater returns on their efforts in the future.
Real Estate Mogul
Stone clearly knows how to make money. He’s also a master at making money out of money, Over the years, he’s made a mint in property, none more so than when he turned a profit of a cool million on his New York property in 2019. As Dirt.com reports, the South Park creator also owns a score of other properties, including one in Venice Beach that’s currently on the market for a hefty $4.5 million – one million more than he paid for it back in 2005.
So how did Matt Stone make that $700 million? Simple – by refusing to give up on his ideals (or rather, a certain talking poo character), having a tireless worth ethic, sticking with Trey as his partner, and employing a very, very good lawyer indeed.