IT was one of those moments where you can’t quite believe what is happening.
The nation sat down last night to watch England’s first match in the 2010 World Cup against the USA.
In pubs, clubs, living rooms, kitchens and back gardens across the land.
Some, like me, were watching ITV1’s coverage on their HD channel.
Four minutes into the game, the picture suddenly switched to an ad for one of the sponsors of ITV’s World Cup coverage.
Cutting back to the football as England captain Steven Gerrard was embraced by team mates after scoring a goal an estimated 1.5 million out of 15 million viewers missed.
You can see what happened here:
I was subsequently asked to talk about the incident on BBC Radio Five Live’s World Cup Breakfast Show this morning.
Click on the arrow below to listen to the item, which begins with an explanation of what happened:
As you will have deduced from that interview, I actually feel very sorry for the team at ITV.
Yes, those watching ITV1 in standard definition saw England’s goal without interruption.
But one technical error on the HD feed – of the very worst kind – has overshadowed all the good work put in elsewhere.
As ITV1 commentator Clive Tyldesley tweeted in the early hours ot today:
My immediate reaction, while trying not to spill my mug of tea, was that I’d somehow sat on the remote control – even though it was on the other side of the sofa.
Then I thought my newly-purchased Freeview HD PVR must have gone haywire.
Thanks to Twitter, it soon became clear that all ITV1 HD channel viewers has suffered the same fate.
Robbed of a moment in their life they will never get back again – watching live as England score their opening goal in the South African World Cup.
What made it worse was ITV’s failure to fully acknowledge the scale of the howler on screen.
At half-time, newly-signed presenter Adrian Chiles – doing an otherwise very good job – said sorry for “some interruption in your coverage”.
The understatement of the night.
It also looked to me that ITV1 HD viewers were given just the SD transmission after the fourth minute nightmare.
So ITV – directly or indirectly – spilled the ball, just like England goalkeeper Robert Green.
Even if it turns out this was not the fault of an ITV employee, ITV is the company viewers will blame.
It had a massive Saturday night audience in the palm of its hand and – on the HD channel at least – a crucial moment slipped through its fingers.
Viewers are, rightly, absolutely furious. But there is no place for some of the more extreme vitriol being hurled in ITV’s direction.
Nobody died and, like Clive, the hard-working talented team at ITV are as angry and disappointed as the rest of us at what happened.
Especially after a similar incident during an FA Cup tie between Liverpool and Everton last year, when many ITV regions cut to an ad just as Everton scored their winning goal.
At the time ITV’s Michael Grade apologised for the “inexcusable glitch” and the FA said: “It is important that lessons are learned and that this does not happen again.”
Well, it has.
All those at ITV have been through some hard times, including redundancies and cost cuts.
But the network appears to be turning a corner, with some excellent new programmes in the pipeline.
Which makes what happened last night all the more disappointing for all involved.
New chairman Archie Norman said last month: “The ITV problem has not been one of failure of ambition or aspiration. We have struggled with delivery.”
Words that, sadly, now come back to haunt him.
ITV1 showed the England goal again last night in their later highlights show.
Perhaps appropriately, the programme that followed was called TV’s Naughtiest Blunders.
Update: ITV has blamed human error at transmission supplier Technicolor in London for the loss of picture. More here.