ITV managed to miss the opening goal in its high-definition World Cup coverage of the match between England and the United States by cutting to a sponsor spot. It is the first time the commercial channel has broadcast matches in high-definition, now available on satellite, cable and terrestrial transmissions. The games are also simulcast online and viewers can follow coverage on the web with a new dual-screen experience known as ITV Live. At least they got to see the goal.

Less than three and a half minutes into the match the high-definition coverage cut to sponsor spot for a car company, followed by a channel ident and several seconds of black. The interruption lasted over twenty seconds and when coverage returned England players were seen celebrating and the score was one-nil. Viewers had to wait until half-time for an apology for “some interruption in your coverage”.

The howler, only equalled by the England goalkeeper letting the ball slip through his hands to allow the United States to draw the match, is believed to have been a playout problem.

It is not the first time it has happened. Last year, ITV received over a thousand complaints after many regions cut to a commercial break during extra time in the FA Cup tie between Liverpool and Everton, missing the winning goal.

The problems at ITV cut both ways. Last month, the last six seconds of a special three-minute Nike advert were clipped, including the identifying strapline, kicking off their World Cup campaign during the Champions League final. ITV apologised unreservedly to Nike and agreed compensation.

Last year ITV completed the outsourcing of its channel playout to Thomson’s Technicolor Network Services.

The most recent transmission problem distracted attention from other advertising innovations that were introduced during the planned breaks in the coverage of the opening England World Cup match.

An advert for Sony 3D TV was transmitted in characteristic double vision, with the message “Do not adjust your set” and the suggestion that “Maybe it’s time to get a 3D TV”. The commercial will also run before 3D films in cinemas.

The ITV Live experience on was described as “taking interactivity to a whole new level”. Among other things, it provides synchronisation of on-air and online advertising allowing users “to explore adverts without interrupting their enjoyment of the game”.

“We think the ITV Live experience will not only be the definite real-time experience of World Cup 2010 but also a platform that we plan to build on for all the live ITV television events for the future,” said Ben McOwen Wilson, director of online and interactive for the company. He will be leaving ITV in the summer, substituted by Fru Hazlitt, who has been appointed managing director of commercial and online.

Advertising innovation during major live events is critical to the commercial future of television, which makes it all the more important that networks do not drop the ball and upset viewers in the process.