Stars lining up for 11.11 Countdown Gala

Award-winning producer/singer Pharrell Williams, British pop singer/songwriter Jessie J, tennis superstar Maria Sharapova and Real Madrid football icon Luis Figo will attend this year’s 11.11 Countdown Gala, Alibaba has announced.

It is the third annual countdown gala, a Chinese-style variety show that runs in the hours preceding the 11.11 Global Shopping Festival’s midnight launch. More than 100 celebrities are expected to attend the show, at the Mercedes-Benz Arena in Shanghai tomorrow night.

Other “A-listers” expected to join the celebration include Victoria’s Secret Angel Lais Ribeiro, Irish dance troupe Riverdance, US performance group Blue Man Group, robot rock band Compressorhead, and from China actress/pop star Karen Mok, actress/model Zhang Ziyi and pianist Lang Lang.

The event will be livestreamed on Alibaba’s Taobao app and video-streaming site Youku while also being broadcast on Beijing TV, Shenzhen TV and Zhejiang TV. Watching on TV will not mean viewers will miss out on this year’s new interactive mobile features. When the hosts introduce interactive segments on the show, such as giveaways of red packets worth up to RMB$4999 (US$755), the TV stations will simultaneously send out signals to consumers via satellite. By shaking their smartphones, viewers will see interactive content on their phones.

The gala has set itself apart from other variety shows by engaging viewers in real time via mobile. Viewers last year won clothing worn by the stars and collected “red packets,” a traditional Chinese way of giving away money, all via smartphone while watching.

Emmy-winning veteran television producer David Hill, who is directing the gala for the second year in a row, says the interactive experience has been strengthened this time.

“It’s a much tighter show. It moves much better… If you analyse why we are doing the show, it’s to turn shopping into sport and to make shopping entertainment, so the show has to reflect that philosophy. And the way the show is constructed – with so many segments, so many stars and fun bits – it reflects the overarching theme of what Single’s Day has become,” says Hill.

“It is truly remarkable. We can do things in China we can’t do virtually anywhere else in the world,” he says. “In America, if you stream to any more than one or two million people you get a swirling circle of death, meaning it’s not connecting. In China, we can stream to more than 35 million people. It boggles the mind.”

Virtual stalls

Jianping Tsai, who leads the gala’s technology design, says the goal is to draw on Alibaba’s technology to give mobile audiences a similar experience to what they would have at the live event. Users watching the livestream through the Taobao app will be seated in “virtual audience stalls”, enabled by AR and computer animation

“For the first time we are bringing 3D motion-capture technology to the phones of Chinese consumers, recording the action in real time, even the facial expressions of the celebrities, which is then efficiently compressed into a single, encrypted 20-megabyte file,” says Tsai.

“Through merging augmented reality with a 360-degree VR panorama, audiences will be able to see and interact with celebrities… a zero-distance, multi-angle projected AR experience.

“Tmall’s 11.11 Countdown Celebration has become one of the best-known commercial events in the world. At the same time, we want this to be a stage to show the world our cutting-edge technology and the innovation of Tmall as it merges business, technology and retail.”

Alibaba has turned 11.11 into an event in China. The shopping festival started with 27 participating merchants in 2009 as a way to raise awareness of online shopping both among retailers and consumers. It has grown to have 100,000 merchants participating last year with consumers spending RMB120.7 billion.

This year, more than 140,000 brands are involved, offering promotions on 15 million-plus product listings. These include more than 60,000 international brands, engaging with the half-billion-plus Chinese consumers who will visit Alibaba’s platforms.

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