Greg Dyke, director general of the BBC, has announced plans to give the public full access to all the corporation's programme archives.
Greg Dyke predicts a more public-focused broadcasting future
Mr Dyke said on Sunday that everyone would in future be able to download BBC radio and TV programmes from the internet.
The service, the BBC Creative Archive, would be free and available to everyone, as long as they were not intending to use the material for commercial purposes, Mr Dyke added.
"The BBC probably has the best television library in the world," said Mr Dyke, who was speaking at the Edinburgh TV Festival.
"Up until now this huge resource has remained locked up, inaccessible to the public because there hasn't been an effective mechanism for distribution.
"But the digital revolution and broadband are changing all that.
"For the first time there is an easy and affordable way of making this treasure trove of BBC content available to all."
He predicted that everyone would benefit from the online archive, from people accessing the internet at home, children and adults using public libraries, to students at school and university.
Mr Dyke appeared at the TV festival to give the Richard Dunn interview, one of the main events of the three-day industry event.
He said the new online service was part of the corporation's future, or "second phase", strategy for the development of digital technology.
Mr Dyke said he believed this second phase would see a shift of emphasis by broadcasters.
Their focus would move away from commercial considerations to providing "public value", he said.
"I believe that we are about to move into a second phase of the digital revolution, a phase which will be more about public than private value; about free, not pay services; about inclusivity, not exclusion.
"In particular, it will be about how public money can be combined with new digital technologies to transform everyone's lives."