Two years ago when Alibaba Group decided to broadcast a star-studded gala to get Chinese consumers in a spending mood for the company’s annual 11.11 Global Shopping Festival, it chose to stage the event in the country’s capital city of Beijing. In 2016 year, Alibaba moved the show to the birthplace of China’s economic miracle: the southern city of Shenzhen.
Adjacent to Hong Kong, Shenzhen in 1980 was designated as the PRC’s first Special Economic Zone, making it a testbed for market-oriented economic policies. Today a center of tech and hardware manufacturing, the city “has always been at the forefront of China’s opening up to the world and represents the spirit of innovation and forward thinking,” explained Chris Tung, Alibaba Group chief marketing officer. “We want this spirit reflected in our annual 11.11 Global Shopping Festival as we take globalization and innovation to the next level in this year’s event.”
Held on the eve of Alibaba’s giant 24-hour online sale, last year’s gala (which is comparable to a New Year’s Eve countdown variety show) was a minor cultural phenomenon. The four-hour show was watched by some 100 million viewers via TVs and video streaming, making it the No. 1 show that night. It featured a roster of Chinese and international celebrities such as Chinese boy band TFBOYS, Taiwanese singer Jolin Tsai, Korean pop star Rain and British actor Daniel Craig.
Last year’s gala was directed by Chinese filmmaker Feng Xiaogang. Alibaba this year said it was adding international flavor by hiring Los Angeles-based TV producer David Hill to direct. The industry veteran has helmed numerous blockbuster broadcasts including the Oscars, several NFL Super Bowls and the popular reality TV show American Idol. The gala will be televised by Zhejiang Satellite TV; consumers can also watch via mobile phones and live streaming, according to Alibaba.
More than 40,000 merchants and 30,000 brands, including some 5,000 international brands from 25 countries and regions, participated in last year’s Nov. 11 sale. More than $14.3 billion in GMV was generated during the event.
Almost all the hardware (and some very crucial apps and software, too) are built in Shenzhen. While the average consumer in the west may still think of Chinese tech companies as copycats, that mentality is outdated and, quite frankly, ignorant. China's tech companies have gone from followers to innovation leaders in their respective fields in record time. (Take Xiaomi, for example. The company's products may have started out as a bit of an iPhone ripoff, but not anymore: its new bezel-less phone makes the recent Apple and Google phones look clunky and primitive). The latter is why Wired magazine and Financial Times called Shenzhen "The Silicon Valley of Hardware," and why Apple will soon open an R&D hub there.