Over two years ago, the COVID-19 pandemic completely changed the business landscape for dozens of industries. For example, the eCommerce industry saw a meteoric rise, while cinemas and theatres have not yet fully recovered from the multiple nationwide lockdowns.
One of the industries whose rapid growth was also triggered by the coronavirus pandemic is the OTT or Over-the-Top industry. For millions of people stuck at home for months on end, with little to no social interaction, OTT services have become the go-to entertainment channel. Subsequently, the number of available streaming services also skyrocketed, and new players are regularly unveiled.
At the same time, the quality of a streaming platform can be the one factor that makes the users fall in love with the service or eventually abandon it. In this article, we will look at what OTT testing is, why it’s needed, and what it usually includes.
The Rise of OTT Platforms
An average US user spends 485 minutes a day consuming media products, which is more time than most of us spend daily on eating, commuting, or hanging out with friends and family as busy adults. And most users will choose a subscription service based on two factors: the amount and quality of the content offered by a platform and the quality of the platform overall.
At the same time, with an increasing number of streaming platforms, users are now facing a phenomenon called subscription fatigue. While the number of streaming platforms continues to grow, it can be harder and harder for users to maintain several subscriptions at once — both due to financial reasons and the lack of time to consume all the content available.
This is why the quality of the service is now just as important as the amount and quality of the content on offer. Therefore, media streaming testing becomes one of the most effective ways to maintain the quality of the application at the required level and make sure the product can successfully compete with other streaming services.
What Is OTT Testing?
OTT testing, or software testing in media and entertainment, is the practice of performing software testing on an OTT media product. A typical approach to OTT testing doesn’t just include individual types of testing. All-encompassing quality assurance is required to check every single aspect of a streaming product.
Ideally, OTT application testing should be performed by two subteams dealing with manual and automated QA respectively. This allows the team to achieve the wisest use of resources while maintaining a superior quality of the product.
Types of Products and Platforms OTT Testing Deals With
The OTT industry has dozens of both established and new players, but the absolute majority of them can be broken down into three categories. Here they are.
These applications allow users to stream audio files using their smartphones, desktop computers, Smart TVs, or car stereo systems. The audio files may contain music, radio shows, podcasts, and more. The success of audio streaming apps depends on several factors: the amount and quality of available content, the absence of playback issues, the regular addition of new releases, the accessibility of the application on different platforms, sharing options, and more. Examples of audio OTT apps include Spotify, Deezer, YouTube Music, TuneIn, Pandora, and more.
Video OTT applications are probably the most popular type of streaming app out there. With a video OTT solution, users can stream movies, TV shows, concerts, sporting events, live video feeds, and other types of video content wherever they are. Like audio OTT applications, video streaming apps are available on different platforms, from mobile phones to Smart TVs. With an endless number of video streaming platforms, users are looking for high-quality, regularly updated content, a user-friendly interface, stable performance, and consistent operation on different platforms. Popular examples of video OTT platforms include Netflix, Hulu, Apple TV, HBO Max, and Amazon Prime.
VoIP OTT applications are the next generation of traditional VoIP solutions, allowing users to interact via audio or video calls, as well as text chats. A good OTT VoIP application will have a convenient interface, steady performance even when the connection is not ideal, and good security with data encryption mechanisms. Popular VoIP applications that utilize OTT technology include WhatsApp, Skype, Viber, Facebook Messenger, and Google Duo.
The Importance of Testing OTT Apps
As we’ve mentioned before, given the variety and quality of OTT platforms available today, users won’t think twice before cancelling their subscription after repeatedly facing playback issues or having concerns about their privacy.
And while it’s natural for streaming services to rely on the amount of content available, especially when it’s original content that costs a lot to produce, great content alone isn’t enough to both attract new users and convince the existing ones to stay. So, timely and all-encompassing OTT application testing helps increase user retention by ensuring the top-notch quality of the application and is just as important as the content the platform has to offer.
Key Types of OTT Testing
A good media streaming testing strategy is a complex and comprehensive one. The central part of the strategy is not so much about the individual types of testing as it is about the aspects of the application that need to be tested. Still, it’s possible to single out a few most important types of testing that can be found in any media app testing plan. Here are the ones you cannot miss.
The interface of a software solution is the first thing users see when they decide to give it a try and it’s something they will interact with day in and day out, provided that they decide to stick with the platform. This is why UI/UX testing should be one of the first types of testing performed on an OTT software platform. When two OTT services have a similar amount and quality of content, a good UX is often the one thing that will become the deciding factor for a user.
When a user launches a streaming application, they expect a few key things: constant availability of both the platform and the content, quick response, instant switching to full-screen mode, and others. These are all the things that performance testing deals with. After thorough performance testing, you will know for sure how your application will perform under different circumstances and for different users.
Even though popular OTT platforms offer years worth of content that users can enjoy 24/7, streaming platforms regularly face peak load periods. For example, the first season of the highest-viewed show ever on Netflix, Squid Game, scored 1.65 billion hours watched by subscribers in just 28 days. Big sporting or cultural events also draw large viewing numbers. This is why it’s important to make sure the platform is equipped to withstand peak load with load testing.
In this day and age, an OTT product owner cannot just make the product available for one or two platforms and call it a day. A streaming service, whether it’s an audio, video, or VoIP solution, is going to be used on dozens of different platforms, from smartphones and tablets to TVs and car entertainment systems, which means thousands of different devices/OS/browsers/network protocol combinations. This is why it’s important to take care of wide compatibility at the development stage and perform compatibility testing throughout.
The OTT technology heavily relies on network stability for an engaging user experience and smooth performance. Because all the content is stored outside of the user’s device, the stream will simply not launch or will constantly go into buffering mode in case of network problems. And although testing against every potential network problem is hardly possible, comprehensive network testing can definitely make the product equipped to face the most common connectivity issues.
While developing and testing an OTT solution, it’s very important to keep in mind not only the fully-abled users who, without a doubt, constitute the majority of a typical streaming service audience, but also consider people with different disabilities, especially people who are hard of hearing or visually impaired. This means testing various aspects of the app that can help such users have a better experience using the product, from adjustable font sizes to voice-over functionality.
It may seem that OTT applications don’t require the same security approach as, for example, banking or fintech applications. However, OTT software products, whether they deal with audio, video, or communication, contain plenty of sensitive information. A security breach can have catastrophic consequences for the image and market position of the product, as evidenced by Yahoo, LinkedIn, and Facebook, to name a few. Timely security testing can protect the app owner from many privacy-associated issues and ensure a safe environment for the users.
The use of APIs can significantly increase the number of options for making the functionality and user experience of an app richer. With the help of an API, you can introduce any new feature, from logging into the site using various social media services to adding dozens of payment options to the site. However, since APIs are typically created by third parties, it’s vital to test the way they are integrated into the main app with API testing.
What Needs To Be Tested
OTT services are not created equal. They offer different functionality, are aimed at different audiences, and have different marketing strategies. However, there are a few features and parameters that can be found in pretty much any OTT application. The presence of these features helps create a comprehensive OTT application testing strategy. These are the key things that need to be tested in a new or existing audio/video streaming application.
This is the one aspect of an OTT solution that can make or break the success of the product. Solid functionality — whether it’s super innovative or simply meets the expectations of the users — will be the factor that not just lures in new customers, but also motivates the existing audience to continue using the product. This is why testing the core functionality of the product is the key element of any streaming testing strategy.
For a product designed for a wide audience, usability matters as much as the core functionality. No matter how many radio stations or original content your service offers, bad usability will drive users away faster than you can imagine. Most importantly, the product needs a user-friendly interface where every action is easy to perform. It’s also essential to check whether every element of the UI actually leads to the desired result. This is also one of the aspects of OTT application testing where manual QA is preferable to automated testing.
Good performance is something most users don’t pay a lot of attention to, whereas bad performance is instantly noticeable and can significantly impact the product’s market position. There are many components to an OTT app’s performance, from how quickly the application reacts to users’ requests to how stable the playback is at any given moment. Moreover, it’s important to make sure that sudden spikes in user activity do not negatively affect performance.
Connectivity is the cornerstone of OTT technology: without a stable internet connection, a stunning interface or an impressive collection of content is not going to be worth much. And while the QA team working on a streaming application does not typically have any control over the network speed or quality on the client’s side, they need to ensure that the application does not create any obstacles that can prevent a steady internet connection.
OTT services don’t require users to download any media files to their devices, and that is one of their most appealing features. However, that means that the application is forced to rely even more on its own storage to give any number of users access to any piece of content they want. This is why storage requires special attention from the QA team. Whether you opt for your own storage solution or third-party cloud storage, this is one of the testing areas you cannot miss.
Many industry experts believe that smart personalization is going to be the driving force of this generation’s race to the top of the OTT industry. In other words, a service that offers the most robust opportunities for content personalization and always gets it right when it comes to suggesting new content for users to check out is going to emerge as the winner in the increasingly competitive market. And only a QA team with plenty of experience with OTT products will be able to fully evaluate the personalization feature.
There are some OTT services that are monetized exclusively through ads, but they are a minority. Most platforms offer some form of subscription to give their users access to all content or an ad-free listening/watching experience. And having a paid subscription available on the site also means having a few payment methods on offer. Here, the testing team needs to focus on two important aspects: a flaw-free process of making a purchase and the uncompromised security of the payment gateway.
A comprehensive testing strategy will help you take care of the most important aspects of your product, ensuring positive audience reception, market longevity, and easy scalability.
Stay tuned for our upcoming article on OTT platform testing, where we will cover the challenges commonly faced while testing OTT solutions, as well as streaming testing automation best practices and benefits.