Drama of Fyre Fest Continues as Netflix, Hulu Docs Battle for Dominance

January 15, 2019

By Chloe Aiello

The 2017 Fyre Fest, which scammed thousands of millennials out of thousands of dollars, is still creating drama.

Nearly two years later, the disastrous event has caused a scuffle between Netflix and Hulu, both producers of rival tell-all docs on the subject.

But according to the director of Netflix's "Fyre," there's really no contest, largely because Netflix "is a global platform," and attracts "a much bigger audience."

Netflix's ($NFLX) "Fyre," by Smith and Executive Producer Gabrielle Bluestone, is scheduled to premiere on Netflix Friday just days after Hulu dropped its own Fyre Fest documentary, "Fyre Fraud."

"We knew it was coming, it wasn't a big issue," Smith said.

But behind the scenes the feud between Netflix and Hulu over the documentary has been more contentious than Smith's dismissive comment would suggest. In a previous interview with The Ringer, Smith said festival founder Billy McFarland told him Hulu offered $250,000 for an interview and behind-the-scenes footage. Smith said the Netflix team refused to pay for interviews or footage for ethical reasons.

"After spending time with so many people who had such a negative impact on their lives from their experience on Fyre, it felt particularly wrong to us for him to be benefiting. It was a difficult decision, but we had to walk away for that reason," Smith told The Ringer.

Hulu admitted to the payment ー but argued the amount cited by Smith had been inflated ー and raised its own ethical objection to Netflix's doc. The Netflix team worked with Jerry Media and Matte Projects, two companies who were involved in putting on the festival and producing the dazzling promotions that helped it sell out. The Hulu doc even references Netflix's project.

"To me, I think it’s a little bit of the pot calling the kettle black," "Fyre Fraud" director Jenner Furst told the Ringer.

"For us, it was important to try to tell the inside story and to work with the people that were actually working on the festival," Smith reasoned. "All these people lost hundreds of thousands of dollars ー Jerry Media, Matte [Projects] were also the people that did the promotional video that also lost a lot of money, and then there was a lot of the contractors that didn't get paid. So for us, almost everyone that we interviewed had suffered in some way in being associated with Fyre."

Ultimately, both documentaries attempt to unravel the deception and poor planning that led to the meteoric rise, and then crashing fall of Fyre Festival in 2017. McFarland, a millennial scammer sentenced to six years in prison for fraud, sold a pipe dream of an Instagrammable luxury music festival, complete with everything wealthy digital natives could possibly desire.

"It sounds like a Stefon sketch on SNL. This festival had everything: it had influencers, and Bella Hadid, and Ja Rule, and yachts, and Pablo Escobar's Island," Bluestone, who also reported on the festival, said. "Every element of it was more interesting than the next and it kept spinning out into bigger and bigger stories."

But in reality, Fyre Festival never came together. Festival-goers ー some who paid anywhere from $1,500 to $250,000 for tickets ー showed up to a Bahamian island to find storm tents instead of luxury glamping accomodations, a smattering of port-a-potties, a speaker instead of a musical lineup, and no ride home, Bluestone reported in Vice.

"I think that speaks to the power of the marketing that they had this festival that never existed and they were able to sell tickets to all these people and get investors who should have known better to put money in. Everyone kind of bought into this idea," Bluestone said.

In fact, marketing was about all the festival organizers did right, according to Smith. They used models and social media influencers, like Kendall Jenner, to promote this luxury vacation in a promotional video and marketing campaign that exploded.

So did influencers learn their lessons? Bluestone thinks not.

In the aftermath of Fyre Fest, the Federal Trade Commission sent letters to influencers, Wired reported, saying those using their fame to market items or experiences need to disclose a material connection between endorser and marketer ー something as simple as #ad would suffice. But Bluestone said the problem is the FTC doesn't really have a way to enforce its recommendations.

"If nothing else," she added, "the Fyre Festival serves as a cautionary tale that what you see on your phone is not necessarily something real."

For full interview click here.