Chinese state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) has partnered with tech giant Baidu to distribute “red packets” during the world’s most-watched television show of the year—the Spring Festival Gala. The partnership excludes Tencent and Alibaba, which in previous years have been involved in the event.
CCTV has broadcast the gala on Chinese New Year’s Eve every year since 1983. In 2018, more than 1.1 billion viewers watched the show. It has previously partnered with Tencent-owned messaging platform WeChat, mobile payment platform Alipay, and online marketplace Taobao.
Chinese family members give red packets, or hongbao, to one another as a gesture of good fortune during Chinese New Year celebrations. In recent years, these gifts have moved online with the advent of platforms like WeChat and Alipay.
During an eight-day period beginning Jan. 28, users will be able to “grab” the hongbao within a number of apps, including the company’s mobile search and newsfeed platform Baidu App and short-video platform Haokan. This year, more than RMB 1 billion (around $150 million) worth of red packets are expected to be given out, according to Chinese media.
Chinese internet users responded with little enthusiasm. “I would rather give up the free money, and will not download [Baidu’s] apps,” one netizen commented on a Weibo post by The Beijing News.
Search giant Baidu launched its online payment tool Baidu Wallet as early as 2014, after being granted a payment license by China’s central bank in July 2013.
Tencent developed virtual hongbao as an in-app feature for WeChat in 2014. The gifting system has subsequently exploded, especially during the period surrounding Chinese New Year. According to Tencent, Chinese users sent and received virtual red packets 1 billion times during the 2015 Spring Festival Gala.
Alibaba’s Taobao, on the other hand, spent nearly RMB 1 billion on hongbao in 2018. Next to Alibaba’s Single’s Day shopping festival, grabbing and sharing digital red packets during the Spring Festival has become one of the most influential national-level group activities on the Chinese internet.