Twin Films—the weird moment in which destinies seem to align and nearly identical films are released in a short span of time—have been a regularly occurring phenomenon in Hollywood since the 1930s. (Never forget the Deep Impact–Armageddon showdown in 1998, or the Friends With Benefits–No Strings Attached square-off from 2011.) Television isn’t as susceptible to this phenomenon, though with 495 (!) scripted series produced in 2018, there were a few familiar threads, namely the obsession with assassin antiheroes seen in Killing Eve, Barry, and Mr Inbetween. And less than a month into 2019, we have our first small-screen twin-films situation: multiple Fyre Festival documentaries!
Last week Netflix released the trailer for Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened, a documentary diving into the fracas that ensued after a bunch of partygoers were scammed out of what was billed to be a luxurious music festival. (If you somehow missed the Fyre fiasco, the TL;DR version is that everyone arrived to a bunch of FEMA-style relief tents, sad cheese sandwiches, no music, and a borderline IRL reenactment of Lord of the Flies.) The doc’s trailer—and the fact it was made by Emmy-nominated filmmaker Chris Smith (American Movie, Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond)—was promising, a reminder of how captivating it was to read and watch clips of the Fyre Fest mess from afar two years ago. And it was coming soon, hitting the streamer Friday.
Enter Hulu. On Monday morning, the competing streamer, with Billboard and the currently defunct digital media site Mic as producing partners and The Hollywood Reporter as promoter, not only dropped the trailer for its own Fyre doc, Fyre Fraud—it revealed the whole thing was available to stream right away.
And just like that, Hulu stole its competitor’s thunder. Even if Netflix’s version is considered the definitive documentary on the subject, there’s an undeniable appeal to being first. Netflix has made a habit of winning streaming weekends, the way The Haunting of Hill House surpassed Amazon Prime’s highly anticipated anthology series The Romanoffs in terms of critical appraisal and buzz in November. But Netflix got beat to the punch this time. Hulu made a strategic choice to capitalize on its competitor setting a date for its Fyre doc, and rather than compete with it directly over a weekend—or release its version at a later date—it gave itself a four-day head start. Not only that, Fyre Fraud’s release also coincided with the review embargo for Fyre, meaning that anyone searching for reviews for the latter is bound to see Hulu’s preexisting documentary on the subject.
It’s a clever gambit by Hulu, albeit a petty one, but all is fair in love and streaming. Netflix will perhaps regret feeling itself the night of the Golden Globes, when its Twitter account sang the praises of the first season of Killing Eve and told people where to find it:
try hulu!— Netflix US (@netflix) January 7, 2019
It’s cute to see these streaming niceties play out on Twitter and think that two giant, multibillion-dollar companies can set aside streaming rights to support what they deem is good art. (On Globes night, Netflix also doled out praise to The Americans, available only on Amazon Prime in the States.) But this is still, first and foremost, a competition. If anything, Hulu’s stealth drop is a reminder this is a cutthroat landscape where fighting for viewers’ attention is as difficult as it’s ever been. Hulu saw an opportunity and capitalized on it. Just like Disney did when it undercut Netflix’s gritty Marvel series by announcing its own Avengers-led series. But don’t feel bad for Netflix. Being a target just comes with the territory when you spend $12 billion to $13 billion on original programming and rack up more than 100 million subscribers worldwide.
If there is something to glean from this Fyre doc drama, it’s perhaps that the streaming wars might be getting a little dirtier. Don’t expect Netflix to extol the virtues of binge-watching The Handmaid’s Tale on Twitter anytime soon.