Alibaba’s wallet app to give away $120m in live TV tie-up

By Steven Millward for

Alibaba and its mobile wallet app Alipay will give away US$120 million to viewers of the Chinese New Year TV extravaganza in China on February 7.

The annual TV gala is a national institution, running for nearly five hours on state TV as China welcomes in the lunar new year. Filled with comedy skits and musical numbers, it’s viewed by more than 700 million people.

Cashless cash

The cash giveaway happens inside Alipay, the online payments app that’s run by Alibaba affiliate Ant Financial (update: added in the Ant Financial name to make ownership clear). At intervals during the Chinese New Year TV gala, the hosts will instruct viewers to hit the “Show Show” button in the Alipay app for iPhone and Android. That will trigger a wave of virtual red envelopes – those cash-filled packets traditionally gifted during the festival – to be sent out to random people.

Alibaba's wallet app Alipay to give away $120m in 'lucky money'

Alipay app pictured today. The “Show Show” button, which was added in a recent app update, will be used for people to participate in the live TV handout of virtual red envelopes.

The US$120 million bounty is provided by sponsors who are conducting the giveaway in partnership with Alipay and state network CCTV. Sponsors include Coca-Cola, Didi Kuaidi (in which Alibaba has a stake), and Tmall (Alibaba’s Amazon-esque marketplace).

The tradition of giving red envelopes filled with cash has evolved in the smartphone age.

The name of a particular sponsor will appear on each virtual red envelope sent to viewers through Alipay.

Alipay has 350 million registered users, the company said mid-way last year.

Alibaba arch-rival Tencent did the same thing in 2015 during the TV gala with its messaging app WeChat, which also has similar epayment functions to Alipay. US$80 million was sent out by sponsors. I got one virtual red envelope within WeChat worth US$0.45 from a company whose name I’ve forgotten.


The sums given out will likely be small, with sponsors aiming to reach as many people as possible.

Virtual gifting

The tradition of giving red envelopes filled with cash has evolved in the smartphone age, with many people using Alipay and WeChat to gift small sums of cash to their friends as a goodwill gesture.

Chinese New Year red envelopes

Both Alipay and WeChat Wallet allow users to specify an amount of money – say, US$10 – that can be distributed randomly among a set number of friends. It’s considered fine if the amount is tiny. It’s the fun that counts.

Large sums of cash are generally given only to children, parents, and 20-something unmarried individuals within the family.

Prior to Sunday’s TV gala, Alipay is using the Show Show button, which appeared after an app update last month, as a way for users to get discounts and rewards from Alipay merchants every morning at 10am.

The article first appeared in The