When executives at Cartoon Network first got a taste of the original concept behind new animated series Steven Universe, created by Adventure Time writer and storyboard artist Rebecca Sugar, they knew they had a potential hit in the making. Inspired by Sugar’s relationship with her little brother, the original Steven Universe short was quickly greenlit for 13 episodes and bowed in the US on November 4, 2013. It’s CN’s first show with a solo female creator in 21 years. Currently a ratings leader among boys, and a growing favorite with girls, the series is rolling out worldwide.
Steven Universe follows the misadventures of a lovable boy named Steven, the ultimate little brother in a family of magical guardians of humanity—Crystal Gems (Garnet, Amethyst and Pearl). The series unfolds as Steven discovers he is a half-Gem with powers that originate from a jewel in his bellybutton. According to Cartoon Network VP of consumer marketing Scott Thomas, the show was the network’s top-ranked program on Monday nights among boys six to 11 and nine to 14 from its US launch to April 18, 2014, averaging 2,021,000 viewers ages two and up per telecast. Notably, viewership grew with girls ages nine to 14 by 16%, and girls two to 11 by 1%, over the same time period.
“We would love to see the kids numbers increase, and getting Steven in front of a girls audience in the six to 11 demo is the best opportunity for that,” says Thomas.”We firmly believe the show is something girls will connect with. We saw this in research and we’re seeing it now. Not that it is a girly show, but it does have Rebecca’s inherent sensibility, which provides a slightly different take on a budding superhero.”
For its rollout strategy, the show’s original pilot launched online in May 2013 and was followed up by streaming the first episode on cartoonnetwork.com and YouTube about a month before the series’ television debut. And based on early fan reaction, research and Cartoon Network’s positive feelings about the show, an additional 13 episodes were greenlit 10 days after its premiere, with 26 more getting the go-ahead a few weeks later.
Launched as a tentpole show, the Steven Universe multi-platform promotional campaign spans social media, web and mobile gaming, apps, licensing and television. One unique aspect of the campaign that really took off was Fan Art Fridays on Facebook. “We were inundated with fans wanting to draw the Gems, Steven and the temple, so we just kept that going,” says Thomas. “We thought it might be a momentary social stunt, but we continue to see kids and young adults engage with us.” He adds that fans have even taken to creating their own Tumblr pages to encourage more drawing. “There is something about the show where fans want to connect with it in a different way.”
On the licensing front, Cartoon Network’s partnership with apparel manufacturer Mighty Fine launched a Steven Universe design contest at welovefine.com in April, where fans could submit artwork based on the show to win prizes and have their designs printed on merchandise.
Now that the series has premiered across North America, EMEA, LATAM and Asia Pacific, Thomas says it continues to rate well. The network is now looking for different promotable moments within the show, beyond the premiere and finale. “We just had one centered around the ‘Giant Woman’ episode, where Pearl and Amethyst fuse to create an all-new Gem. It pulled a nice number for us.”
This article originally appeared in Kidscreen’s May/June 2014 issue