The UK Film Council is seeking help distributors to build digital marketing campaigns through a new scheme that will allow them to apply for funding earlier in the application process.

The Digital Innovation in Distribution scheme, which will run until March 2010, will make up to five awards of a maximum of $49,606 (£30,000) from the UKFC’s $6.61m (£4m) Prints and Advertising Fund. The money aims to cover the specific cost of innovative digital and online tools for marketing films and developing audiences over a longer lead time.

The move has been prompted by distributors developing online promotional campaigns to engage audiences ahead of the traditional four week trailer, press and outdoor PR campaign.

Funding will be available for digital promotional and marketing materials including digital assets, such as trailers or podcasts, developing social media, interactive websites and viral marketing.

Distributors applying for early funding will be encouraged to factor audience research information into their marketing strategies, such as gathering contact details, viewing habits and opinion on whether the campaign will encourage them to go and see the film. This will be collated and released by the UKFC.

Rights holders will also be entitled to apply for funding for incomplete projects providing they can demonstrate plans to release them theatrically in the UK.

Pete Buckingham, head of the UK Film Council’s Distribution and Exhibition Fund, said: “The UKFC is driving forward new solutions for reaching out to consumers and we want this process to inspire unique plans to tap into the growing appetite to discover film online.

“Working over longer lead times, maybe even before a film is completed, means that film’s cinema becomes the main event with in a bigger buzz that has already fired up the imagination of film fans boosting the size of that film’s potential cinema audience.”