The pirate assembling a better sports streaming service – The Verge
HeheStreams offers customers live broadcasts of every NBA game on television, so long as they follow these three easy steps. First things first; buy a $100 Amazon gift card. Next, where you’re supposed to fill out the email address and name of whoever it’s for, put in your own information. “Make no mention of HeheStreams, please,” asks the site’s owner. “We are not able to accept gift cards sent to us directly.” After completing the transaction, copy and paste the Amazon code that has arrived in your email account into an entry field on the HeheStreams website. The owner will also process Paypal and credit card transactions, but this, by far, is the preferred method. Once approved, the floodgates open up. Voila, basketball heaven, presented in glistening HD, at a significant discount compared to what the NBA itself is selling.
“One of the ways I’ve stayed alive is by avoiding a paper trail,” says the owner, who understandably wishes to remain anonymous, because he offers pirated access to four major sports leagues. “My predecessors were thriving for some time, but their payment processor kept getting tipped off and they’d stop processing their money.”
HeheStreams is a bootleg operation that offers live sports from the NBA, NHL, NFL, and MLB. The owner runs pretty much everything — the tech, the maintenance, and the social media accounts — all by himself. He says he founded the site in 2016 and went “premium,” by which he means he started charging money for access, in the fall of 2018. The owner won’t tell me exactly how many customers he has, but does say that he regards the service as something other than a purely moneymaking enterprise. In fact, he’s got a day job somewhere else. This is a hobby, first and foremost. “I don’t want it to blow up,” he explains. “I want it to remain just a side project.”
It’s hard to blame him for that discretion. HeheStreams is breaking all sorts of copyright laws, which explains how it offers one of the best deals on the market. Its legal equivalent, NBA League Pass, is priced at $200 a year and is subject to an arcane web of provincial bureaucracy. HeheStreams cuts the cost in half and isn’t hamstrung by any obligations to the cable powerbrokers.
That’s what makes HeheStreams such a draw for so many sports fans. Local blackout restrictions enforced by television contracts mean, for example, that New Yorkers can’t watch the Knicks on League Pass. Instead, if you’re located in the tri-state area, your only option is the niche MSG TV network. Does your TV package not carry MSG? Then you’re out of luck… unless you turn to something like HeheStreams. Pirate broadcasts might be a precarious enterprise, but for a lot of fans, they’re the easiest option on the table.
Obviously, the NBA and other leagues have a material interest in protecting their content. Bootleg sports streams are as old as the internet itself, but traditionally, they’re hosted on laggy, low-resolution video players cloaked with conspicuous banner ads. But the owner of HeheStreams has devised a way to redirect the official content distributed by the sports leagues through his own server. “I reverse-engineer the official services and give you their platform,” he explains. “I don’t middleman anything.” HeheStreams has a much lighter footprint than you may think, and it’s watchable on everything from an Amazon Fire TV Stick to an Android phone.
“I just broke the fucking internet,” he says, when I ask about the fateful day where he discovered the crack.
Obviously, there’s more to it than that. The owner notes that he has to have an “army” of different active streaming accounts to keep the content flowing. Whenever League Pass updates its internal infrastructure, the owner needs to hustle to identify and address all the security adjustments. “They don’t really give me a changelog,” he quips. “I’m not on their Jira boards, unfortunately.” The site also needs to alchemize the bespoke nature of the MLB, NHL, NBA, and NFL’s streaming apparatuses into a single service, which the owner says is a recurring challenge. This is a full-on coast-to-coast sports network, atomized down to a single person.
HeheStreams has developed something of a cult following among NBA diehards in particular. “Hehe is like my streaming best friend,” writes one user on the HeheStreams subreddit. “I’ll keep renewing until it’s no more,” adds another. “The only website subscription I feel good about paying into every year,” says a third. The loyalty runs deep.
And who can blame them? We are living through an era of streaming hell right now. Every day, networks scramble for exclusive IP rights over decades-old sitcoms, causing an unsustainable bloat in our Roku menus. “Oh god, what the hell is Paramount Plus?” The contracts for live sports change hands like the weather, leading to an unending ambiguity over who, or what, will be allowed to carry Mets games each season. It really shouldn’t be this complicated, and yet the sedentary process of simply watching stuff on the couch becomes more byzantine and annoying with each passing day.
So it makes perfect sense that the world has gravitated toward a talented hacker who also loves the game of basketball. HeheStreams removes all of the tiresome questions about broadcast rights, and instead delivers us back to the good old days: when watching the game was as simple as turning on the TV.