A new set of Steven Universe episodes were set to premiere at 7 p.m. ET on Jan. 30 on Cartoon Network, but the entire so-called “Steven Bomb” has instead made its way to various unofficial channels online, more than three weeks before its official airdate. While many of the beloved fantasy-comedy cartoon’s fans — and some folks behind-the-scenes — are convinced that the episodes went up by way of an accidental leak, a rep for Cartoon Network confirmed to Polygon that the early uploads were, in fact, intentional.
Around 9 p.m. on Jan. 2, Steven Universe fans discovered that all five upcoming episodes were available on Cartoon Network’s mobile app for iOS and Android. This took many by surprise, as viewers were convinced that the installments were viewable by mistake.
That’s not the case, a representative for the cable channel told Polygon.
“This is actually something we’ve been doing for some time with a few of our shows through what we call the ‘See It First’ element of the [Cartoon Network] App,” they said.
“It helps us build awareness for upcoming episodes and for new show launches before they go on the linear platform. For example, we did this last September with our new series Mighty Magiswords, and in December, we sneaked Cloudy with A Chance of Meatballs and My Knight and Me.”
Fans may have noticed that the Steven Universe episodes had the “See It First” designation when they appeared on the app. Yet while uploading the new episodes did create awareness, for many fans, it was only after Cartoon Network had taken them offline that they even knew the episodes were available to view.
That’s because Cartoon Network soon took down all but one of the episodes — “Steven’s Dream,” the first of the new episodes scheduled to air later this month — in the early hours of Jan. 3. That gave some viewers enough time to rip them from the app, then upload them to YouTube. Clips and screenshots began circulating all over social media and other venues, leaving spoilers abound to disappoint those who’d missed their chance to watch the episodes during their brief window of official availability.
The Steven Universe fanbase, confused by the uploads that Cartoon Network dumped onto its app with little promotion and for just a short period of time, began to express disappointment in the network. Forcing fans to watch these episodes way in advance and through unofficial means felt unfair and unavoidable, they said.
IM SO SAD STEVEN UNIVERSE LEAKED UGGHHH :(— Evan (@hvnlyevan) January 3, 2017
legitimately wondering what the hell Cartoon Network is doing— Totes Tracetastic (@possiblyadork) January 3, 2017
they somehow accidentally leaked the entire next Steven Universe Bomb??
Well dang. With the leaked Steven Universe episodes, it's gonna be difficult to avoid spoilers from those who have already gone to watch it.— Mabel!!! On Ice ✩ (@PrincessZeIda) January 3, 2017
It wasn’t just fans who were taken aback by the appearance of the entire “Steven Bomb” way ahead of schedule.
Aivi Tran, who works as a composer on the show, took to Twitter and Tumblr to criticize those who chose to “enjoy [her] work illegally.”
“Geez, I have no clue what’s going on,” Tran tweeted in the early hours of Jan. 3, shortly after the episodes were removed from the app. “If this is an intentional ploy I wish someone would tell us so we don’t stress like this.”
After learning where the episodes came from — the official app — she elaborated on her position about the leaks in a blog post.
“If you watched the episodes on the CN app, you’re cool,” Tran wrote. “That’s on CN, not you. If you’re downloading it from illegal sources, however: illegal sources don’t pay licensing fees to show an episode like legit sources do. I don’t really care what you do, but own up to your choice when you watch the show from a source that doesn’t pay the people involved.”
Every time you watch a leaked Steven Universe episode, I don't get paid for my own music. Thank you— Aivi Tran (@waltzforluma) January 3, 2017
One writer for the show referred to the premature premiere as a “mistake.”
“If you saw the new [Steven Universe] episodes that were mistakenly posted online, I hope you enjoyed them,” said Matt Burnett, who’s written several episodes of the show. “It was a very fun arc to work on.”
The notion that the episodes made it online by accident runs counter to what Cartoon Network told us. The network insisted that this was an intentional promotion as part of its existing “See It First” promotion.
That’s clearly lost on fans, who have come together on a separate subreddit dedicated to discussing the “leaked” episodes, while the main Steven Universe forum has become a place for lashing out at Cartoon Network for shifting the premiere date at a moment’s notice.
“Releasing all the episodes, online, at once, at an irregular hour, with no previous announcement, nearly a whole month before the episodes are even meant to premiere on their channel?” asked Flamma_Man on Reddit. “If it's intentional, it's a horribly calculated move.”
At the same time, many regular Cartoon Network watchers acknowledge that this has happened before.
“Never stopped them from doing it before, for Regular Show, Gumball, Clarence, We Bare Bears, Teen Titans Go, if anything we should be surprised this hasn't happened before,” wrote user PinheadPierre in a response to Flamma_Man.
Steven Universe’s demographically diverse audience may not have the patience for app-based premieres, however, according to many fans online.
“While kids may use the app, teens and young adults just pirate,” wrote sevelev711. “I think if they transition Steven Universe to the app, they lose a bunch of TV viewers, and they won't gain as many app viewers as they'd like. I don't think Cartoon Network has it out for Steven Universe, but they definitely don't know the right decisions to help it out.”
There are now alternative, legal methods to watching the new episodes. Several cable providers have them up for on-demand viewing, and Cartoon Network will still air them on television starting Jan. 30. That should mitigate the frustrations of big Steven Universe lovers who wanted to watch the latest Crystal Gem adventures fair and square.