BBC television programmes are to be broadcast online before reaching TV screens under a new trial as the corporation attempts to rival web services like Netflix.
The decision, confirmed at a meeting of trustees in December, marks the first time that BBC programmes will be released on iPlayer ahead of scheduled TV broadcasts.
BBC bosses have previously experimented with "online-only" content and last year decided to commission a series of BBC Three comedyImpractical Jokers for television after the pilot had been shown on the BBC website.
The 12-month trial will allow up to 40 hours of broadcasting across a range of genres to be put online before reaching TV screens this year, according to minutes of a meeting published yesterday.
It comes after online television and film rental service Netflix launched its new version of House of Cards, starring Kevin Spacey, which was commissioned directly by the company and is not being shown on any television channel.
The entire thirteen-episode first series was made available via the company's website earlier this month and can be viewed at a cost of £5.99 from any device with a broadband internet connection.
Until now, the BBC's online-only content has been limited to pilots and special shows for selected audiences but the trial could see mainstream programming reach computers before televisions.
BBC iPlayer is growing in popularity and last month announced its highest ever number of programme views, with 187 million requests for content made last month on smart phones, internet TVs and computers.
But the TV app is still dwarfed by scheduled television broadcasts and only accounts for about two per cent of all of the BBC's viewing figures.
The new experiment is designed to reveal whether this proportion can be increased by introducing early online broadcasts of popular television programmes.
Because the shows will not be broadcast at exactly the same time as they appear on linear television stations, viewers will not need a license fee in order to watch them.
Ian Walker, BBC publicist for future media, said: "During 2012, the BBC brought selected online-only programmes to audiences.
"These included BBC Three comedy pilots, a Doctor Who web series called ‘Pond Life’, and curated archive programmes for BBC Four. We will build on this in 2013, and make more programming exclusively available to our audiences via BBC iPlayer.”
Pond Life was streamed or downloaded five million times while the seven BBC Three pilots, which also included programmes calledTapeFace Tapes, People Just Do Nothing and Dawson Brothers' Funtime, amassed 750,000 views on iPlayer.
Last summer the BBC announced its global iPlayer app, which offers a selection of new and archived content to viewers in 16 countries including the US, had reached one million downloads a year after being launched.
Media analyst Claire Enders said: "This is a very interesting experiment to see how much people follow specific shows. The BBC accounts for about 20 per cent of all viewing in this country and it is such a significant force that it can afford to experiment.
"We will see which programmes they pick but I don't see that this is going to affect EastEnders, it will be a marquee programme because they are constantly trying to experiment about what people consume and they want to be exciting."
Via Virginie Colnel