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Alibaba’s ‘Singles Day’ Requires an Event Bigger Than the Super Bowl

Alibaba Group’s Singles’ Day” is a bonanza of billions of dollars. But to get the money flowing, the company knows it needs to put on a show.

Actress Nicole Kidman and musician Pharrell were among the participants in a four-hour live spectacular that enlisted the talents of 789 different performers and a crew of 2,900 and is streamed to millions of Chinese consumers eager to use the e-commerce giant’s sites to scoop up everything from appliances to shellfish. Analysts have estimated that last year’s event resulted in the sale of $17.7 billion worth of goods and products.  Alibaba says the event is more than 18 times the size of Amazon’s Prime Day and two-and-a-half times bigger than Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined.

“It’s kind of as old as yesterday and as modern as tomorrow,” said David Hill, the veteran producer who led Fox Sports and supervised the last season of “American Idol” for Fox Broadcasting in the U.S. Hill oversees the mega-promotion, and said his job is to piece together elements that would have fit well into an old-fashioned variety show, and weave them together with moments aimed at sparking interactivity with a digital audience. “Of all the stuff I’ve done, it’s one of the most interesting  shows,” he said. “The structure of the show is huge acts, a huge cast, interspersed with the opportunity to win money through various games, all played on mobile phones.”

This is Hill’s second go-round producing the event.

The challenge for a producer of “Singles’ Day” is that the success of the event is known immediately. Executives can monitor sales activity in real time – and the dollars that come with it. Some of the other big events Hill has supervised were far easier, he estimated. When it comes to the Super Bowl, he noted, most of the action is in the hands of the two competing teams and the National Football League. But for the Alibaba event, he has to keep the momentum going, using everything from Blue Man Group to a guy who races rows of falling dominoes.

“It is a mega-show. It’s seriously unlike any other show in the world, in terms of just how big it is,” said Hill. “It’s like this runaway train.”

Alibaba estimated that more than 140,000 brands took part in the 2017 event offering 15 million different products.

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