has clinched a deal with the makers of cult animation series South Park to produce 39 original short films for the Shockwave Web site.

Web pundits say the deal heralds a trend that will see the Internet wrest control of the entertainment industry away from the traditional media giants - TV and movies.

The episodes, to be broadcast early next year, will be created using Macromedia's Flash technology, a format for distributing multimedia content over the Web. Users will be able to view them using Macromedia's Flash Player, which can be downloaded free.

"In the next year or two this is going to be a fantastic industry. People are going to make a fortune, but more importantly, consumers are going to be entertained," said Robert Burgess, chairman and chief executive officer of Shockwave's parent company, Macromedia.

"This really breaks the old studio model," Burgess said.

Large entertainment companies have traditionally insisted on retaining tight control over the artistic, distribution and merchandising rights for the content they produce. In this case, revenues from the films will be shared with filmmakers Trey Parker and Matt Stone, who will also retain "complete artistic control" over the animations, Burgess said.

Macromedia last month announced a similar deal with Stan Lee Media, a firm created by the animator responsible for Spiderman and the Fantastic Four. Lee agreed to produce his first "Webisode" - an emerging term for short movies shown over the Web - for the site.

South Park, a caustic animated comedy centred around a group of precocious children, made its debut on the US's Comedy Central TV station channel in 1997. The series quickly became a cult classic, partly because episodes were distributed over the Internet.

Series creator Parker said: "Yeah, we think this Internet thing could be pretty big."