NBCUniversal’s NBC Owned Stations are encouraging viewers to send in photos taken with Instagram, as part of the company’s ongoing efforts to engage with their viewers by embracing social media and user-generated content. It’s more than just an endorsement, too: the Instagram app is being incorporated into their production systems for use online or in local news broadcasts.

Instagram reports having more than 15 million registered users, an install base likely to swell following Apple naming the free service as the iPhone App of the Year. Instagram remains solely on iOS, but Instagram chief executive officer Kevin Systrom said earlier this month that an Android version is in development.

“Our viewers send us great photos, particularly during breaking news, special events and severe weather,” said Greg Scholl, president of Local Integrated Media at NBC Owned Television Stations. “Instagram is easy to use, widespread and makes photos look good. We can now bring these fantastic images into our local news broadcasts and easily share our viewers’ photos widely.”

Several stations already are inviting viewers to send in Instagram photos of holiday lights in their area and marking them with localized hashtags, with the possibility of having the images shared with the public on air or online, beginning with NBC 4 New York, NBC4 Washington, NBC 6 Miami and NBC Connecticut. NBC 7 San Diego previously ran a test of the app integration on its SoundDiego music site, inviting fans to send in concert photos using Instagram.

Stations in Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco Bay Area and Dallas-Fort Worth are also part of the NBC Owned Television Stations group.

“We’re excited to see the NBC-owned stations using the power of mobile photography to add another dimension to news reporting,” Systrom said in a statement. “Instagram is a highly visual way to communicate important news and events, and we’re thrilled to see NBC innovating on the Instagram platform to bring these photos to the local television audience.”

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Photo using Instagram by Flickr user alextoul/Alex Toulemonde, used under Creative Commons license