by Martin Veitch

ITV’s missing World Cup goal is a reminder that outsourcing doesn’t make problems go away

Jun 13, 2010
IT Strategy

Not to get too Michael Barrymore about this but executives, like kids, say the funniest things, one of which is that ancient smug pseudo-solution that is expressed thus: ‘We outsourced the problem’.

Ideally you solve a problem. Alternatively you might ignore a problem for a while and hope it goes away. Or you might, in business-speak, park a problem and hope you don’t get a ticket for your troubles. But you can’t really outsource a problem to a service provider in the expectation that the problem goes away. It might stop being a day-to-day concern but it’s still your problem and you’re the one who has to front up and take the flak when things go wrong.

On Saturday evening, ITV had a problem. On its biggest event in a long time it managed to miss showing in live action one of the two most important passages of play in England’s World Cup opener against the US — Steven Gerrard’s wonderfully deft goal, later to be equalised in all its embarrassing, high-definition glory. That the problem was confined to its HD offering was scant consolation as many viewers had invested in HD especially for the World Cup and did not want to see car advert rather than a goal. About 1.5 million viewers were tuned into ITV HD to (not) see England’s best moment in the game.

Sensibly, ITV made a prompt apology and was largely mea culpa (with a bit of ‘that lot are culpa’) about the whole thing. “We apologise unreservedly to viewers for the unacceptable interruption to high definition coverage of the match,” said Richard Cross, group technology director. “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.”

Technicolor provides ITV with outsourced broadcast, delivery and transmission services. In a case study it says that this relationship “[allows] ITV to focus its resources on content production, while benefiting from reduced costs, greater efficiencies and more flexibility to deal with future technical and commercial challenges.”

I’m sure it does but from YouTube clips galore to the national media it will be ITV that people will blame. Although Cross said he would be meeting Technicolor to thrash out matters, he did not say that Technicolor’s issue meant ITV was blameless. That’s all well and fair but this is a reminder that even after services have been outsourced they can still come back to haunt you and the group that chooses the service provider has to take responsibility. Beware of those who believe that outsourcing is a one-off job. That, like ITV’s miss and Robert Green’s spill, is just another howler.