ITV World Cup HD Coverage Flips to Commercial at Crucial Moment

A break in transmission on ITV’s live HD coverage of the FIFA 2010 World Cup on Saturday June 12 added to the disappointment of England fans. Many watching on HDTV missed their team’s opening goal four minutes into the game only to see the USA tie the score up later in the half. Instead of England captain Steven Gerrard’s putting his team ahead, ITV HD viewers, at home and in pubs across the country, saw a commercial for Hyundai cars.

In a statement issued on Sunday morning, ITV laid the blame firmly with its transmission contractor, Technicolor. The broadcaster’s preliminary investigation attributes the break to “human error” at the playout centre in Chiswick Park, west London, and states emphatically that it had nothing to do with the ITV Sport production team in South Africa.

While standard-definition coverage on ITV1 was uninterrupted, the HD channel went to commercial for 20 seconds. “We apologise unreservedly to viewers for the unacceptable interruption to HD coverage of the match,” says Richard Cross, group technology director of ITV. “We met with Technicolor first thing this morning to put in place measures to address the issue and to ensure that Technicolor takes the appropriate action with immediate effect.”

Will Berryman, SVP of operations for digital content delivery at Technicolor, adds, “Technicolor deeply regrets this incident and its impact on ITV and its viewers. Investigations are continuing as a matter of the utmost urgency in order to ensure that the issues are addressed with immediate effect.”

The incident is doubly embarrassing for ITV and Technicolor, since it follows a similar lapse in February last year during live coverage of an FA Cup match between Everton and Liverpool. An automated ad broke into the build-up to Everton’s winning goal, and, although the feed switched back in time for most ITV viewers see the ball go into the net, those in some regions, including London, missed out.

Terrestrial coverage of the World Cup is shared between ITV and the BBC, so this latest transmission blunder has increased calls from viewers, some made explicitly on Internet forums, for major sporting events to be broadcast exclusively by the public-service broadcaster.

A conspiracy theory is now circulating that the break in transmission was deliberate. With the Everton-Liverpool game as a precedent, bookmaker Paddy Power offered 8-1 odds that an ITV game would suffer an interruption. Because of the four-second delay between the SD and HD feeds, runs the theory, a saboteur could have inserted the ad in the knowledge that a goal had been scored.