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NBC Hopes Peacock Finds Luck of the Irish This Fall with Notre Dame Maneuver

Despite the slower, The Office-centric start for Peacock, the streaming service is obviously the future of video content for NBCUniversal. And while the media conglomerate wasn’t daring enough to move an anchor primetime linear TV property like The Voice to the service, the amount of Olympics content on Peacock shows that NBCU can and will use sports to spur consumer behavior shifts.

The Olympics are one thing, of course. While Note Dame football is another.

On Wednesday, it was revealed that the Fighting Irish’s home opener against Toledo will air exclusively on Peacock instead of NBC, where Notre Dame home games have appeared since 1991. While plenty of college football games are streaming-exclusive over the course of a season, moving Notre Dame — one of the only schools in the country with a standalone national TV deal apart from a conference and one of its most valuable brands — is a far bolder move for both the Irish program and NBC alike.

For NBC, this is the clearest indication yet that everything’s eventually headed to Peacock, and they’ll push increasingly harder to make that happen. Notre Dame home games on Saturdays are marquee TV inventory, even against a perceptively “lesser” team like Toledo, and viewers have been conditioned for three decades now to flip on their local NBC affiliate for kickoff.

Human behavior’s hard to break, but it’s especially tough for college sports fans to break a ritual like that (speaking from experience as a dedicated college sports fan myself) after decades of repeated behavior and familiar surroundings. It’s a running joke around college football internet circles that Notre Dame fans are… older as well, and there’s at least some truth to the gag. Creating an extra hurdle here asks how willing typical Fighting Irish football fans are to embrace a new behavior even for a one-off game. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks after al. And mirroring Notre Dame’s staunch dedication to independence in college football, change could be especially hard here too.

It’s also a several step process for NBC. Getting Notre Dame fans to willingly sign up for Peacock just to watch the Irish take on Toledo is hard enough. Now you need to get them to stick around beyond the initial game. Some may, especially if a deal comes with it. But many may not, opting to jump in and never shadow the door of the app again? How do you get those viewers to remain when — for at least some of them — the entire reason they have any affinity to NBC at all is watching Notre Dame?

Extra Notre Dame content could be one answer for NBC… if Notre Dame itself wasn’t already running its own streaming service showcasing just that. With documentary-style programming, archived games, live non-football sports and more, Fighting Irish TV is a treasure trove for Irish fans that currently doesn’t charge a cent, but one would think it’s about to as part of a greater subscription model that helps further boost its media revenues.

Theoretically, they could merge that with long-time partner NBC so they can take on the production aspect and technical support, which makes some sense. But at the same time, they’re already doing it on their own and fans are happily tuning in. Why split that money with someone else when you don’t have to?

Assuming Notre Dame comes to that conclusion as well (seems likely), NBC sort of runs out of Notre Dame-related angles for Peacock short of putting more live football games on the app. All of Notre Dame’s other sports inventory save ice hockey belongs to ESPN via its ACC rights deal, so that’s out. It’s really football or bust on this move.

The question, as is the case with all of these streaming migrations by linear TV networks is how much are you willing to lose in the short-term to win over streaming viewers in the long-term?

Right now, streaming’s losing money for these companies, and will continue to do so until ad rates and audience numbers catch up. NBC pays Notre Dame $15 million per year to air home games and a neutral site (so usually seven or eight total), meaning every game’s worth $2-3 million each season. Moving games to Peacock doesn’t mean ad revenue for those contests disappear. But it could also going to prove a lot harder to get the same sort of audience NBC would get for that game on a Saturday afternoon, thus diminishing the value of some of its most premium inventory.

It’s a worthwhile gambit, and one it’s already testing out with these Olympics — but with a broader fan base and plenty of Olympics content on linear as well. As NBCU keeps pushing Peacock as its future, though, it’ll probably need a whole lot more Notre Dame games on the service before it actually makes business sense, or sense to fans of the Fighting Irish.