Which Big Ten football games will be special for Peacock? Here’s how NBC will decide

Whether you love, hate, or are indifferent to streaming live games, it may soon become a necessity for some college and pro football fans – just as it has been for football fans in the United States for years.

When the Big Ten and major TV networks announced media rights deals worth $8 billion on Aug. 18, it quickly became clear that the conference was following the NFL’s lead by dipping its toe into streaming-only options that might appeal to the prestigious technology. Discerning young fans consume sports differently than older generations.

The Big Ten’s deal with NBC — reported to be worth $350 million a year from 2023-29 — includes eight football games to be streamed exclusively each fall on the network’s Peacock direct-to-consumer service for $5 or $10 a month.

This naturally raises an important question for Big Ten fans: Which games will end up on the NBC television network (and simul-streamed on Peacock) vs. Peacock only?

Rick Cordella, Peacock’s executive vice president and chief revenue officer, explained. athletic The process for deciding which Tuesday games will go to traditional broadcast and cable TV and which will be streaming-only games when the contract begins in 2023, will include consultation with the Big Ten.

Network executives will consider potential live linear TV ad revenue as a potential subscription benefit for any given game, he said. Hovering over that is the question: Will those new Peacock members lured by Big Ten streaming stick around to watch other content, or will they cancel after a game or season?

“It has long-term value for the company if they can convert someone into a (continuing customer),” Cordella said.

Before NBC decides which games will go where, it must learn what games are available.

NBC, CBS and Fox will hold a draft lottery — perhaps not entirely unlike fantasy football — to determine which network gets the first pick of each week’s football windows for its broadcast package. athleticFox’s Richard Detsch reported that Fox will have first dibs on the year and is expected to hold Ohio State-Michigan in late November because it typically commands a larger audience.

Once NBC knows which weeks and games to choose from, it will decide which games will be simulcast on NBC’s linear TV network and Peacock (Saturday night primetime), and which times will be streamed Peacock exclusives.

That said, not all Peacock-only games will be decided or announced before the season. The network plans to hold off on some scheduling decisions until later in the season to take advantage of the development of stories like Cinderella teams and players pursuing Heisman or landmark records, and busts.

“That’s the idea, pushing the entire season schedule into August,” Cordella said.

While it might seem like the less exciting games would be a throw-away to bury in the streaming — is there much viewership for, say, a lowly Rutgers team hosting a mediocre UCLA squad in November? – That’s not always the case and runs counter to what the network is trying to build. Rivalries between good teams and meaningful games are likely to end in peacocks with potential crooners. There are only so many broadcast TV windows available, so some quality games are ending up streaming.

Don’t expect the biggest games to be Peacock-only, but with NBC focused on growing the service, the picks are likely to still feature quality matches. (Rick Osentoski/USA Today)

What this creates is a tension between trying to maximize Big Ten games to a wider audience while simultaneously building a paywalled streaming service with desirable content — like good football games.

That said, the marquee matchups will remain on linear TV, plus streaming, for the foreseeable future.

“If you’re going to have a good game, you want it in both places,” Cordella said. “This is not the situation for us.”

Will the Ohio State-Michigan game be streamed only on Peacock One Day?

no At least none are currently on the visible horizon.

“I don’t think that kind of game is going to happen at Peacock,” Cordella said.

Michigan’s 42-27 upset of Ohio State last November averaged nearly 16 million viewers for the afternoon kickoff on Fox. That was the best regular-season college football game last season, and 17 million watched on ABC in 2016 when OSU won in overtime.

The process of deciding Peacock-only games will also include consultation of the conference. Cordella declined to divulge details about any veto process, so it’s unclear whether NBC will ultimately make the final call — though it seems likely. That said, it should not be in one’s financial interest to insult the other’s partner. The network is confident it will be able to make a case for why the game is on TV or why it’s only on Peacock.

“We’ll have data to back up where we want to put the game,” Cordella said.

Unlike Amazon’s “Thursday Night Football” broadcasts, which air on participating teams’ local TV affiliates, Big Ten exclusive Peacock games will be available only via streaming. NBC said it has not been decided whether the streaming-only games will be limited to specific windows or potentially any traditional kickoff time slots.

NBC’s Peacock-only games are expected to be a mix of conference and non-conference games. And the network is confident that streaming games will have a solid audience as more people convert to streaming.

“I think Peacock can achieve cable numbers,” Cordella said.

The long-term commitment to streaming premiere content recently gained some justification when Nielsen reported that in July streaming services outperformed both cable and broadcast TV individually for US television viewers for the first time. Nielsen reported that streaming accounted for 34.8 percent of the U.S. TV audience last month compared to cable’s 34.4 percent and broadcast TV’s 21.5 percent.

While that’s rosy for streaming services, industry experts and insiders are beginning to wonder how much room is still left for exponential growth for direct-to-consumer products. Some of the runways have been used and it is not clear how many are left.

Year over year, cable viewership is down 9 percent and broadcast TV is down about 10 percent, while streaming has gained about 23 percent in usage, per Nielsen.

Major sports properties have begun to migrate to live games after paywalled streaming, so it’s no surprise that one of the two major college football conferences is following suit (the other being the SEC).

Amazon Prime Video (which will be measured by Nielsen) will pick up the NFL’s “Thursday Night Football” this season only from DirecTV (which has a deal to simulcast Amazon TNF games to 300,000 sports bars and restaurants and other locations).

The Peacock itself is already home to all UK Premier League games in the US, many of which are exclusive to the service.

Cordella noted that Manchester United’s 2-1 win over Liverpool on Monday averaged around 800,000 viewers per minute for Peacock-specific matches. That suggests more domestically popular college football content could match or top those numbers.

That game is also an example of a matchup between major teams that thrives behind the Peacock paywall.

Big Ten regular-season conference games on ABC, ESPN, Fox and FS1 averaged 4.1 million viewers per game last season, according to Nielsen, up from 4.3 million including the conference championship game. Sports Media Watch’s weekly tracking of college football games shows that the conference matchup was in the top three for total eyeballs each week. It led all sports viewers in six different weeks in 2021.

How many people subscribe to Peacock? We have to rely on NBC parent Comcast’s quarterly earnings filings for insight because Nielsen isn’t tracking Peacock.

Peacock ended the first quarter of 2022 with 13 million paid subscribers and 27 million active users. That number was flat in the second quarter. The number of active accounts, which includes free ones, fell by 1 million in the second quarter compared to the 28 million reported in April.

By the end of 2021, Comcast reported 9 million paid Peacock users. Events such as Super Bowl LVI in February and the Beijing Winter Olympics fueled subsequent paid growth.

Peacock, like other major streaming services, loses hundreds of millions of dollars as a start-up, driven by its own launch and costs of broadcasting rights and content licensing and in-house content development.

The long-term strategy by NBC and other networks is to put enough popular content behind a streaming paywall to build a subscription base and eventually turn a profit. Beyond its entertainment library, NBC has bolstered its Peacock sports lineup — live games are less prone to TV’s secular viewership than scripted programming — with simulcast and exclusive content including sports events, Premier League games, MLB Sunday games, NFL games, Notre Dame. Home games, golf, tennis, IndyCar races, Olympics, WWE events including WrestleMania, and original programming.


USC and UCLA will join the Big Ten starting in 2024, giving NBC even more inventory — and a nationwide footprint — to work with when it chooses Peacock sports. (Richard Maxon/USA Today)

NBC’s new Big Ten deal gives it 16 games in 2023 and 15 in 2024 on linear TV, plus eight Peacock-only games. The network also gets the 2026 conference title game, in rotation with Fox and CBS. NBC’s marquee product will be primetime “Big Ten Saturday Night” — functionally, the college version of its popular “Sunday Night Football” slate of NFL games that command huge audiences.

Big Ten football games aren’t the only ones included in this deal. It also includes 47 regular-season men’s basketball games and 30 regular-season women’s basketball games.

With USC and UCLA set to join the Big Ten in 2024, the conference will have a much national broadcast footprint that stretches between the coasts but is largely in the Midwest. It is considering Notre Dame, Cal, Oregon, Stanford and Washington for further expansion.

This isn’t NBC’s first or only college football deal that includes Peacock-only games. The network’s long-standing rights deal with Notre Dame for home football games includes a Peacock-exclusive game on Oct. 22 when UNLV hosts the Fighting Irish at 2:30 p.m. in 2021, with the Peacock streaming the Toledo-Notre Dame season opener as the first game. did The streaming-exclusive game under their network partnership dates back to June 1991.

CBS, which is reportedly paying $350 million a season, will air Big Ten games on its primary TV network while simulcast on its Paramount+ streaming service. No Big Ten football games will be exclusively behind the Paramount+ paywall.

Fox, which will have a noon kickoff window, does not have a dedicated paywalled streaming service like Peacock or Paramount+.

So fans of the Big Ten can watch every Saturday afternoon Fox game, mid-afternoon CBS game (after being freed from its SEC obligations in a couple of years), and primetime games on NBC and streaming simulcasts on Paramount+ and Peacock (and on Fox’s website and app).

ESPN, along with Disney-owned sibling ABC, chose not to continue pursuing a new Big Ten contract after 40 years of broadcasting conference games.

(Top Photo: Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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