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Case Study: Chernobyl, how to get eyes on an incredible new series


By Chris Sutcliffe, Senior reporter

July 31, 2019 | 5 min read

How 33Seconds used Instagram Stories and a partnership with ‘I Fucking Love Science’ to drive awareness of Sky Atlantic’s new series ‘Chernobyl’. The series has now become the highest rated TV show in history according to IMDb.


Sky Atlantic is the flagship entertainment channel for Sky. A home for ground-breaking TV shows with the greatest storytelling talent from the US and Sky originals produced in UK.

Chernobyl is a five-part mini-series dramatisation of the 1986 nuclear disaster which displaced tens of thousands and will render parts of Ukraine and Belorussia uninhabitable for thousands of years.

Sky Atlantic asked 33Seconds to raise awareness and tune into the show while remaining sensitive to the fact that the marketing could not glamourise, contrive or lighten events surrounding the disaster.


Five years of research went into the making of the show so there was an extensive amount of source material for 33Seconds to digest. Insight from focus groups was used to gauge the tone. Words like “disaster” and “catastrophe” were changed to “sacrifice,” “heroism” and “madness.” This, coupled with extensive social listening and analysis, gave us a clear picture of the stories we wanted to focus on.


Chernobyl was released episodically each week so we knew we needed a two-phased approach. Phase one to raise awareness pre-broadcast and Phase two to raise awareness during each episode. With no media spend allocated, we ideally needed to work with a partner to amplify the reach.

Phase 1: Pre-Launch Awareness

Social listening around similar historical events showed high engagement in short documentary style videos on social so we produce a series of these videos cutting real life accounts with dramatised footage from the show to tell stories of the heroes over the course of the disaster.

To help to amplify the reach and influence of the documentary ahead of broadcast, we identified science interest page, “I Fucking Love Science” as a partner. Their Facebook audience of curious 30 - 45-year olds was the perfect fit for this type of shareable content and the results were well beyond expectations.


All the footage sourcing, clipping and dynamic subtitles were created by the 33Seconds in-house team.

Phase 2: Driving Awareness and Tune-in during each episode

Research and analysis on dramatised historical events showed a social audience had a curiosity and desire to learn more. Therefore our approach during the show, was to release a series of ‘second screen assets’ which complemented the on-screen experience and provided viewers with more information.

We explored a number of ways stories could be told to deepen the engagement in the subject matter and found the most visceral and thought-provoking way to do this was through a gamified experience - recall and perception being higher when individuals can relate and interact with their environment.

Chernobyl's gamification

We used Instagram Stories to “take over” a viewer’s phone screen, with the imagery inspired by the 1986 Soviet era CRT monitors, to create a companion asset for each episode. Utilising a mixture of on-screen descriptive text and graphics we created an immersive and sometimes unnerving storytelling experience, recreating the story of Chernobyl, placing emphasis on the key facts and stories people might not know.

Over 11-13 frames, each two-and-a-half-minute video was released during advert breaks of the broadcast episode. With a view to capitalise on the “second screen” trend of viewers searching for factual gratification of what they had just witnessed in the show.

All the research, animation and graphic design was carried out by the in-house team at 33Seconds.


To measure success on social, Sky wanted to focus on reach, engagements and video views.

The combined social campaign numbers broke all expectations, over the 5-week period the campaign drove a total of 6.7 Million impressions, one million video views and 450,000 engagements, with no paid media support.

Chernobyl’s first episode has had a 7-day cumulative audience of 2.1M. This is the biggest audience for a Sky original drama this year and the third best launch for an original on Sky Atlantic behind only Fortitude and Britannia.

Chernobyl has become the highest rated TV Show in history according to IMDb.

Anna Hutton, Senior Social Media Manager for Sky Atlantic, said: “The social response around Chernobyl has been overwhelmingly positive. The videos 33Seconds created to tell Chernobyl stories have exceeded our expectations. It’s clear people want to watch and share content like this and engaging social content can include far more sensitive and serious subject matter when presented in a thoughtful way. We’re extremely pleased with the unique creative approach to Instagram Stories and retention rate shows there is a clear appetite for creative and immersive uses of the platform for our audience.”


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33Seconds is an independent, award-winning communications agency, specialising in climate, technology and lifestyle.

As well as offering services across strategy,...

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