Highfield said that the rapid expansion of audio-visual content available over the internet suggested the technology was about to enter a new phase.
The corporation is placing itself at the heart of the innovations, and is currently piloting the interactive Media Player (iMP). The computer package makes the last seven days of BBC programmes available over broadband using "peer-to-peer" technology, where large files are shared between users' computers.
"We can take these risks on behalf of the industry and it's a very privileged position," he told the Great Blend technology event in New Zealand yesterday. "But if we can solve the issues around digital rights management and find ways of reducing distribution costs by using legitimate peer-to-peer networks, then everyone wins."
He also cast doubt on suggestions that on-demand viewing would fatally damage the advertising market. He envisions a new tier of "gatekeepers" - likely to include technology companies such as Google and BT, who will profit from their push into broadband television.
"When we hire a DVD, we can't skip the adverts, for example," he said. "The more significant shift will be in who we get our television programmes from. The power is going to shift, and suddenly the new gatekeepers will be able to take a lot of ad dollars."