Nielsen plans to begin large-scale testing of new smaller, wearable PPM devices this year with an eye toward starting to integrate them into its radio ratings samples in 2020. While clients would like to see Nielsen accelerate the timetable, Nielsen Audio managing director Brad Kelly tells Inside Radio the transition from the existing PPM 360 to more current and stylish wearable meters will require rigorous testing and analysis.

In an exclusive Q&A to be published Friday, Kelly outlines a timeline for the new PPMs, which miniaturize the meter’s underlying technology into devices that resemble a smartwatch or a Fitbit. “Larger scale testing” of working prototypes of the wearables is set to take place this year. In 2019, the measurement giant plans to compare data collected by the new meters with that from legacy PPMs to look for similarities and differences in the data. The analysis would also look at compliance levels and include an impact analysis.

“You want to do it right,” Kelly says. “You want to make sure that this new step in the evolution of the meter is doing what you need it to do and the compliance is there.” Assuming everything checks out, Nielsen plans to begin putting wearables into the field as part of its live sample in 2020. “This is not an en-masse swap-out, it’s an integration over time,” Kelly notes.

At last week’s NAB Show, radio research execs firmly pressed the company to step on the gas in updating both its PPM and diary methodologies. But Kelly says a major change in the meters has the potential to be disruptive if not done carefully. “You can't just throw it into the field,” he says. “The marketplace expects us to do this smartly and methodically and we’re committed to it.”

Importantly, the PPM is no longer a radio-only data collection instrument. Nielsen plans to put the new wearables into service in its TV households, effectively integrating what are now separate radio and TV panels. The new devices have Bluetooth, enabling them to connect to Nielsen TV meters. Currently, Nielsen TV household members have to “register” each time they start and stop watching television. The TV meter is assigned to the television, not to an individual, so this sign-in process is how the TV meter knows who’s watching. But that will change when the new PPM devices are introduced. This will allow the TV meter to know which participants are in the room, and when they exit the room, making registration 100% passive. One goal is to improve compliance levels for TV panels.

But there could also be a benefit for radio. “Here's a chance to leverage these wearables to integrate the separate radio [PPM] panel and TV [LPM and set top meters] panels, which would have huge implications for sample size,” Kelly says. He declined to provide an estimate of how large the sample increase would be. “It’s not just applying to the TV piece of what Nielsen does. It a PPM so it’s simultaneously picking up radio listenership. So as I walk out the door, get in the car, turn on my car radio and I listen, now I’m leveraging the fact that I’ve got these additional panelists out there and have significantly supplemented the PPM sample size.” Read the complete Q&A with Nielsen’s Brad Kelly and John Snyder in Friday’s Inside Radio.