Share peaked at 73% for U.S. match

LONDON — England failed to beat the U.S. in their opening game of the soccer World Cup, but the match was a ratings bonanza for ITV as up to 20.1 million viewers tuned in.

The huge audience for ITV, which is sharing World Cup coverage in the U.K. with the BBC, was inevitable as soccer fever gripped Blighty.

ITV1’s audience share peaked at 73% and the broadcaster will receive a big lift in advertising income thanks to the soccer.

However, in common with the perf of the national team, let down by a fatal goal-keeping error, ITV committed a huge howler

More than 1.5 million fans watching the action in pubs and clubs via ITV’s HD web missed England’s only goal due to a “transmission error.”

When England’s captain Steven Gerrard scored in the opening minutes of the contest, fans watching in HD were forced instead to watch an ad for Hyundai cars, one of ITV’s two sponsors for its World Cup coverage.

The web, which made a similar mistake during a domestic soccer tournament in February 2009, apologized “unreservedly” for the gaffe.

“An error by ITV’s transmission providers, Technicolor, meant that ITV1 HD’s coverage of the England v USA match was interrupted for approximately 20 seconds. ITV1’s standard definition coverage was unaffected,” said ITV in a statement.

But the damage had been done — and the error will do nothing to help the image of what is already a tarnished media brand in the U.K.

Messages posted on ITV.com from angry viewers underlined the seriousness of the broadcaster’s mistake.

“Hand over your games to BBC,” said one.

Users attempting to watch the tournament’s opening game, South Africa vs. Mexico, via the ITV Internet site, also encountered problems as soccer supporters failed to log on.

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