Media Streaming Testing: Process, Test Cases, Challenges, and Automation Potential

Inna M. by Inna M. on 09/26/2022

Media Streaming Testing: Process, Test Cases, Challenges, and Automation Potential

The rise of the streaming industry has created a momentum for new and existing streaming applications to try and win a share of the market. And because users now expect nothing less than a flawlessly operating application, OTT platform testing is a crucial step on the way to a successful product. 

We have already covered the basics of OTT testing, the biggest OTT industry trends, and our experience of testing a radio application with 75 million monthly users for 7+ years. Today, we are taking a closer look at the process and challenges of media streaming testing, as well as OTT testing automation potential.

The process of testing OTT applications

On one hand, the process of OTT application testing is not that different from the typical steps QA engineers take when testing other software products. On the other hand, as we’ve covered in our previous longread, there are some undeniable peculiarities of streaming testing that require the engineers to possess knowledge of the industry and platform-specific techniques, tools, and steps.

At the same time, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to testing OTT products simply because they can be very different in media types, scale, availability on different platforms, and other features. For example, as evidenced by our experience in testing an audio streaming platform, the mind map approach can prove to be very effective when the product has robust functionality and different parameters influencing its performance.

The most common OTT app test cases

When launching the process of software testing in media and entertainment, it can be hard to know exactly where to start or what to include in your strategy. And while planning the entire testing process is a task best left to experienced QA engineers with hands-on experience in the media industry, it’s also possible to design a winning testing strategy even if the team has not been directly involved in OTT application testing before. These are the examples of essential test cases that demand your attention in the first place.

UI

The user interface of your application is the first opportunity for the users to make an opinion about the service, and it’s going to accompany them throughout the whole customer journey. This is why treating the UI as an afterthought is unacceptable. These are the typical UI-related things a QA team checks in a streaming product:

  • The homepage of the application is tailored according to the content previously consumed by the user or, in case when it’s the first time the user is launching an app, the homepage contains the content promoted by the service.
  • The search works properly and displays relevant results when the user enters a specific title, name, genre, year, or other search queries. If it’s possible to launch a piece of content directly from the search results, this feature needs to be tested as well.
  • There is a system of filters for narrowing down the selection of content on the homepage or in the search results. The user needs to be able to influence the content displayed on the page with filters including genre, country, production year, length, and so on.

Functionality

An engaging user interface is what will attract customers initially, but an interface alone will never be able to retain them. Users are looking for robust functionality from their go-to OTT streaming service. Here is what needs to be checked functionality-wise:

  • Playback is the central feature of an OTT streaming app, which is why it needs to be tested comprehensively. This includes checking whether the play/pause button, the volume buttons, the skip buttons, and other playback controls are working as they should.
  • Offline mode can be a hugely popular feature, allowing users to enjoy their favorite content even when their device is not connected to the internet. In this test case, it’s important to check that the content is downloaded in full and that it’s not accessible directly as a file in the device’s file system.
  • Many users prefer to watch videos with subtitles, whether due to hearing problems or simply because captions help them understand the content better. This is why it’s important to check that the content is properly localized for every language the service is available in.
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User profiles

Most, if not all, media streaming services only allow access to content to registered users. Therefore, registration and profile information should be among the things a QA team checks while testing the application. Here are a few things to consider at this stage:

  • The registration process needs to be smooth and quick. If there are multiple login options available — such as email, social media accounts, Apple or Google ID — they all need to be verified for correctness and also checked to prevent account abuse.
  • Streaming viewers are known to share the same account among multiple users. Some streaming plans allow a certain number of screens to use the same account, in which case, the team needs to check whether the number of screens cannot be exceeded. If the platform prohibits account sharing, the QAs need to make sure that the users are not circumventing the requirement.
  • If the service allows users to create multiple accounts — for example, separate accounts for the parents and for the children — it’s important to make sure that only one account has administrator privileges, such as restricting access to certain types of content to one or more accounts.

Payment

Payment functionality is present in every media service that is not monetized exclusively through advertising. It’s also the functionality that deals with the largest amount of sensitive data, which is why in-depth testing is a must:

  • Modern streaming platforms offer a variety of payment options to their users ranging from standard credit and debit cards to cryptocurrency. The QA team’s job here is to verify the correct operation of all payment methods.
  • Payment gateway can be carried out in two primary ways: through an API on the platform itself or by transferring the user to the payment page of the bank of choice. To maintain the integrity of the payment system, make sure that only the transactions with correct card data and OTP proceed successfully.
  • Comprehensive QA means considering not only the positive but also the negative scenarios. Specifically, check how the application behaves when the connection is timed out and make sure that the subscription or access to paid content is not activated in case the transaction is declined by the bank.

Platform features

Customers are going to use their favorite streaming app on different platforms, which is why developers typically take into account the features offered by those platforms. The QA engineers should follow suit, and here is what they need to test in mobile or desktop apps:

  • Mobile users get a lot of notifications for all kinds of events, and the job of the QA team here is to make sure that an incoming notification does not stop the playback or negatively impact it in any way that is not predetermined by the specifications.
  • On the other hand, an incoming call is something that can and should interrupt the broadcast, so the team needs to make sure that the streaming content is paused when there is a call, whether it’s through a mobile network or through a messenger.
  • Modern operating systems offer various multitasking capabilities, including picture-in-picture viewing mode, split screen technology, and others. The functionality of the streaming platform needs to be compatible with that technology.

Challenges of testing OTT apps

Media streaming testing is a relatively new direction of quality assurance, which means that even the most seasoned QA teams delivering software testing in media and entertainment are encountering certain challenges and roadblocks that require creative solutions. These are the five biggest challenges of OTT application testing.

Insufficient device coverage

Streaming services are typically available on a wide variety of platforms ranging from budget to flagship smartphones and from 10-year-old laptops to 4K TVs. This makes it difficult for an average testing team to source all the devices needed for cross-platform testing. Of course, there is always the option to use virtual machines that allow the team to increase the coverage. However, virtual testing does not usually take into account seemingly insignificant hardware and software peculiarities that can dramatically impact the app’s performance.

Platform and browser compatibility challenges

Most streaming applications are available not just as native applications, but also as browser app. This creates an additional challenge for the QA team: in addition to accounting for different hardware and software characteristics of the devices, it’s also important to incorporate the variety of browsers and operating systems, as well as their combinations. Naturally, it can be very hard to test all the combinations given the time and budget constraints.

Different network speed

It’s safe to say that OTT services depend on a high-speed internet connection more than any other software niche. The higher the speed, the less time will the player spend buffering and the happier will the user be with the service. Unfortunately, creating varying network environments with different speeds and other parameters is a challenge of its own. Moreover, the QA team also needs to take into account the application’s behavior when the connection is irregular — for example, when the user is traveling. 

Increased traffic sources

Streaming platforms frequently need to deal with network traffic spikes. Big sporting events, awards ceremonies, or blockbuster premieres cause millions of users to tune in at the same time. And even though peak load doesn’t happen every day, the testing team needs to verify the stability and performance of the application under different traffic conditions. This is where the team may encounter another challenge, as it can be difficult to project different traffic scenarios with limited resources.

End user behavior simulation

OTT applications are aimed at the widest possible range of users. It doesn’t take sophisticated tech knowledge or experience to download and use a streaming service. And this is something the QA team working on testing such services needs to always keep in mind. For example, one user can be relatively tech-savvy and know that switching the video to a lower resolution can increase the buffering capacity. Another user may have no idea where the resolution controls are even located. It takes a seasoned QA team with the specific streaming testing experience to comprehensively simulate end user behavior.

OTT testing automation: Why and how to do it

Testing automation can be successfully used on products of any scale and intended for any audience. Naturally, it also perfectly fits the goals of media streaming testing, given the endless variety of features, environments, and other variables that need to be taken into account. In this segment of our guide, we will focus on testing automation in the streaming segment of software.

Benefits of automating OTT testing

Introducing automation into your streaming testing strategy requires additional time, human, and financial resources. This is why you need to know for a fact why you are doing it in the first place and what you expect as an end result. These are the five biggest benefits of automating OTT application testing.

Efficient cross-platform and cross-browser testing

Deep platform and browser coverage is one of the key challenges of streaming testing, which we’ve covered earlier in this article. This is where automation comes in handy. The right automation tools, paired with strong OTT testing expertise, allow the team to cover most platform specifications and their combinations to ensure that nothing is missed during the testing process.

All-encompassing test coverage

In addition to different platforms and browsers, there are lots of variables that can impact the outcome of testing and, subsequently, the way the application works for the end user. With the help of testing automation, a team can ensure comprehensive testing coverage, giving the stakeholders full confidence in the product’s performance even in the most improbable situations.

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Better scalability

Growth is one of the most desirable outcomes of a software project, and the need to scale a product — whether by adding new core functionality or by releasing the product to new markets — requires the team to also scale their testing efforts. Testing automation allows the team to scale the processes more effectively and with fewer resources being used.

Faster time to market

The OTT streaming market is insanely competitive, and the functionality and content offered by the service can influence its audience reception and success as much as a dynamic release cycle. By allowing you to cover more tests in less time, testing automation can dramatically speed up the release cycle, helping you introduce new features faster than other market players and gain a strong competitive edge.

Higher ROI of testing

Automating the testing process is a resource-intensive endeavor, but it undeniably has a high ROI. By setting up an automation QA team and by choosing the right tools, you can run thousands of tests in the same amount of time it takes a manual team to perform a fraction of those tests. Needless to say, automation testing is not a universal solution that can completely eliminate the need for manual testing, as it is nearly not as user-oriented and able to quickly react to changes, but it’s definitely a worthwhile investment.

Things to consider when designing an automated testing strategy

Creating an automation testing strategy is an important step to a well-operating QA project that delivers significant value. A good test strategy includes dozens of parameters that are specific to the product. Still, some of its aspects are applicable to almost any OTT application testing project. Here they are.

End to end automation

When the resources or team capabilities are limited, companies often go for automating separate parts of the solution. However, the best results can only be achieved with a comprehensive approach to testing that involves end-to-end testing automation.

Test case reusability

Automation testing is all about effective repetition of relevant test cases. This is why, when designing the test case stack, the team needs to make decisions with reusability in mind. With the right selection of cases and testing schedule, the QA efforts will start delivering the results very soon.

Environment variables

The fact that OTT applications are designed to work in different environments and under different network configurations creates an additional challenge for the testing team, as we’ve highlighted before. This is also the challenge that can be successfully overcome with the right automation testing framework.

Platform variables

The automation testing strategy should always account for the users launching the application on different platforms. Specifically, for an audio OTT application, platforms can range from smartphones and laptops to car stereos and TVs. Each of these platforms and user scenarios need to be included in a test plan.

Artifacts collection

A solid testing strategy produces a variety of deliverables or artifacts at every stage of the process. Screenshots, various logs, video recordings, and reports are incredibly valuable aspects of the testing procedure. Bundled together, they can paint a complete picture of the state of the application and the results of testing. This is why an automation testing framework needs to be set up to collect those artifacts.

Timing issues

OTT applications can include a variety of time-sensitive features, from subtitles to physically based rendering. The automation testing strategy needs to account for timing issues and how they can impact the end performance of the application, so that user experience can be consistent across all time zones and environments.

Failure analysis

One of the goals of comprehensive testing is to uncover various scenarios in which the application can fail. Failure, such as the player not starting or the application crashing, is an inevitable part of the testing process and it’s not a negative thing at all. Rather, it helps the team understand what leads to the failure and how the issue can be resolved in the future. Testing automation should be one of the key tools for recording and analyzing software failures.

End user experience validation

User experience testing is famously one of the most challenging ones to automate, as it heavily relies on the user interacting with the platform and is therefore not exactly predictable. However, the vast opportunities provided by automation testing should also take this aspect into consideration; specifically, by determining how individual discoveries made throughout the testing process can impact end user experience.

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Automating OTT application testing: Goals and best practices

Each automation testing strategy is unique and based on the specific parameters of the application. However, industry best practices and aspirational goals are typical for different projects. This is what to aim for when designing your automation testing plan.

Free test structure

Multiple teams may contribute to creating the automation testing framework, and long-term framework design means the same framework can be used for testing different aspects of the application at different development stages. This is why it’s important not to restrict the format of the tests. The framework needs to be able to work with different formats and structures, so that the test collection can be as all-encompassing as possible.

Limiting the layers

Automatically testing each feature at multiple layers leads to a large number of tests being created just for one individual feature. When scaling the project and adding new layers, the sheer number of tests that need to be automated can become a problem of its own. An experienced QA automation team can successfully identify the most vital tests that need to be included in the automation strategy while keeping the rest on the periphery.

Reasonable resource use 

Automation in streaming testing is viewed as a resource and labor-intensive process, and it certainly is up to a point. However, automation also needs to lead to a smarter use of resources at the end of the day. If it takes too much time, money, or human resources to set up the automation process, the team needs to reconsider the necessity of testing automation and possibly optimize its use.

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Final thoughts

With the growing popularity of streaming services and the equally growing competition in the market, users are going to have increasingly sophisticated demands when it comes to the quality of their favorite streaming application. This is why software testing in media and entertainment isn’t just an option — it’s the key component of maintaining and improving software quality. And our series of articles on OTT application testing, you can find out how it should be done.

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Written by
Inna M., Technical Writer

Inna is a content writer with close to 10 years of experience in creating content for various local and international companies. She is passionate about all things information technology and enjoys making complex concepts easy to understand regardless of the reader’s tech background. In her free time, Inna loves baking, knitting, and taking long walks.

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