Alibaba said Tuesday award-winning producer and singer Pharrell Williams, British pop singer-songwriter Jessie J, tennis superstar Maria Sharapova and Real Madrid icon Luis Figo will attend this year’s 11.11 Countdown Gala Celebration, while teasing that there’s more star power to come—with surprise guests introduced later this week.
The third annual countdown gala, a Chinese-style variety show that runs in the hours leading up to the 11.11 Global Shopping Festival’s midnight launch, has become truly a red-carpet event—with more than 100 celebrities expected to attend on the evening of Nov. 10 at the Mercedes-Benz Arena in Shanghai.
Some of the other “A-listers” expected to join the celebration are Victoria’s Secret Angel Lais Ribeiro, Irish dance phenomenon Riverdance, performance artists from Blue Man Group, robot rock band Compressorhead, as well as local superstars Karen Mok, Zhang Ziyi and pianist Lang Lang.
The event will be livestreamed on the Alibaba-owned mobile Taobao app and video streaming site Youku from 7:40 p.m. Friday, local time, while also being broadcast on three Chinese TV stations: Beijing TV, Zhejiang TV and Shenzhen TV.
Watching on TV won’t mean missing out on this year’s much-anticipated interactive mobile features. When the hosts introduce an interactive segment on the show, such as big giveaways of red packets worth up to RMB $4,999 (USD $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. Last year, viewers won clothing worn by the stars and collected “red packets,” a traditional Chinese way of giving away money, all via smartphones, while they watched.
This year the interactive experience will be strengthened, said Emmy-winning veteran television producer David Hill, who is directing the gala for the second year in a row.
Compared to last year, “it’s a much tighter show, it moves much better… If you analyze why we are doing the show, it’s to turn shopping into sport and to make shopping into entertainment, so the show has got to reflect that philosophy. And the way the show is constructed—with so many segments, so many stars and fun bits—it reflects the overreaching theme of what Single’s Day has become,” said Hill.
“It is truly remarkable. We can do things in China we can’t do virtually anywhere else in the world,” he said. “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 over 35 million people. It boggles the mind.”
Jianping Tsai, who leads the gala’s technology design, said the goal is to leverage Alibaba’s technology to give mobile audiences a similar experience to what they would get at the live event.
He said users watching the livestream through the mobile Taobao app will be seated in “virtual audience stalls,” enabled by AR and computer animation, through which they can watch the opening ceremony.
“For the first time we are bringing 3D motion capture technology to the phones of Chinese consumers, recording in real-time the movement, and even facial expressions, of celebrities, which is then efficiently compressed into a single, encryped 20-megabyte file,” said Tsai. “Through merging augmented reality with 360-degree virtual reality panorama, audiences could see and interact with celebrities, face-to-face, in their own homes—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,” he added. “At the same time, we want this to be a stage to show the world our cutting-edge technology and the innovative ways Tmall has been as it merges together business, technology and retail.”
Alibaba put 11.11 on the map – and calendar – as an event in China. The shopping festival started with 27 participating merchants in 2009, as a way for merchants and consumers to raise awareness of online shopping. From those humble beginnings, last year’s event saw participation from 100,000 merchants, with consumers spending RMB 120.7 billion (USD 17.79 billion).
This year, over 140,000 brands will participate and offer promotions on 15 million-plus product listings, including more than 60,000 international brands engaging with the more than half-billion Chinese consumers that will be visiting Alibaba’s platforms.