Later this month the BBC will launch a pilot project that will be the first step in a process that could lead to all television programmes being made available on the internet.
Viewers will be able to scan a guide on their computer screens and download any show they want to see. Programmes will be viewable on a computer screen, or could be burned onto a DVD to be watched through a television set.
Alternatively, they could be downloaded onto a Personal Digital Assistant.
The revolutionary plan has been drawn up by Ashley Highfield, the BBC's director of new media and technology. He revealed details of the project to The Independent last week.
"If we don't enter this market, then exactly what happened to the music industry could happen to us, where we ignore it, keep our heads in the sand and everybody starts posting the content up there and ripping us off," he said.
Mr Highfield said the quality of the programmes will be so high that the experience of watching a show on a PDA will be similar to that of viewing an in-flight film on the seatback of an aircraft.