For the first time ever, mainstream programming produced by the BBC will be shown on iPlayer, the broadcaster’s popular online television and radio software application, before it’s shown on TV.

The Telegraph has reported that the decision was confirmed at a meeting of BBC trustees last December. The minutes show that over a 12-month period, 40 hours of broadcasting will be made available online across a range of different genres and channels.

There’s no word yet, however, on what programming will be used for the trial, or when the trial itself will actually take place.

Forty hours might not sound like a lot over the space of a year, however it’s important to remember that this is only a trial at the moment. The fact that the BBC is even considering an ‘online-first’ approach is a huge psychological step for a traditional broadcaster that has often flourished under the TV platform.

The BBC has already tried its hand at online-only content, such as the Doctor Who mini series Pond Life. However, it’s always felt somewhat constrained on iPlayer and has almost always been a by-product of another, well established series. Becoming Human, the teenage spinoff of the BBC Three comedy-drama Being Human, was one such attempt that did eventually result in a TV release.

The viewing figures for BBC iPlayer are on the rise. Last month the broadcaster announced that it had racked up 2.32 billion TV and radio programme requests in 2012, helped in no small part by the London Summer Olympics. This worked out at roughly 36.5 billion minutes of BBC programming over the 12 month period, with Danny Boyle’s Olympic Opening ceremony leading the charge with 3.326 million requests on iPlayer.

The BBC revealed today, however, that BBC iPlayer is still “dwarfed” by scheduled television broadcasts, accounting for a lowly two percent of all viewing figures.

That state of affairs, however, is being reversed slowly but surely. It’s helped in no small part by the broadcaster’s dedication to mobile, having updated the iOS app with iPhone 5 optimization last December. It follows a dedicated iPlayer Radio app released last October, which is still being advertised on TV through the following commercial:

If the recent House of Cards release on Netflix has shown us anything, it’s that video on demand services need exclusive content to stay relevant. Although the BBC isn’t in any danger of running out of money anytime soon – the licence fee takes care of that in the UK – it doesn’t hurt to have one more compelling reason to use iPlayer.