Facebook TV Invasion Looms Via ‘American Idol’ Voting

Television is often included on that list of industries Facebook executives enjoy casually mentioning will have to rebuild themselves around social engagement. Don’t look now, but Facebook may have just laid the foundation for that blueprint with the anticipated announcement that it will facilitate voting for American Idol contestants.

There’s no official word yet, but reports in Entertainment Weekly and People this week make it seem all but definite that months of speculation surrounding the introduction of online voting for the 10th season of TV’s top-rated series are not only correct, but apply to another upcoming Fox talent show, The X Factor.

It’s not entirely clear how voting will work because there’s been no official word from the network or Facebook, but the possibilities are tremendous.

First, this move is way overdue. That it took 10 seasons for Idol to get to this point is nutty. Social networks like Facebook and Twitter have long teemed with chatter about all things related to the show, so voting is a natural extension of that. Phone calls seem a far less intuitive outlet for voicing support for a favorite contestant than just pressing a ‘Like’ button on a singer’s profile page.

Which isn’t to say voting via Facebook will be that easy. There’s already speculation that the voting system will be tied into Facebook Credits, the virtual currency system that has mushroomed on the social network as a gaming platform. That doesn’t necessarily mean people would have to pay to vote–there are free credits–but done right, Idol could do for TV on Facebook what Zynga did for gaming.

But once you start thinking about how Facebook voting might work, it’s hard not to see the possibility for the social network to do so much more. Voting could just provide the entree for a broader viewing experience that could encompass chatting with friends and other interactive-TV applications ranging from e-commerce to auditions. Multiple new revenue streams could spring forth that will keep lawyers for Mark Zuckerberg and Simon Cowell busy for several lifetimes of negotiations.

Deeper engagement with content can play out any number of ways, perhaps in the two-screen manner some broadcasters like ABC and Fox are already experimenting with via iPad, or perhaps throwing it all together on one screen through technology similar to Yahoo (NSDQ: YHOO) Widgets. It’s not such a leap for users considering 36 percent of users want to access Facebook on their TV screens, according to ABI Research.

Voting may be just the beachhead Facebook needs to advance the kind of game-changing agenda they’ve long promised is coming to media.