AT&T unveils $5 video-streaming service to compete with Netflix

AT&T Inc. introduced a $5-a-month video streaming service that will let U-verse television customers watch movies on computers, tablets and smartphones, pitting the biggest U.S. phone company against Netflix Inc.

The AT&T service, called Screen Pack, gives subscribers access to new movies as early as a month before those available through Netflix, the carrier said in a statement. Netflix is the biggest U.S. streaming-video provider, with 25.1 million subscribers who pay about $8 a month. AT&T has 4.3 million U-verse pay-TV customers.

Cable and phone companies are offering up Netflix alternatives as customers shift to using computers and mobile devices to watch movies and TV. Verizon Communications Inc. has been testing Redbox Instant, an online video and DVD rental venture with Coinstar Inc. that offers streaming movies and rentals for $8 or $9 a month. Time Warner Cable Inc. and Cablevision Systems Corp. have been using software to stream programming to subscribers’ tablets.

“This is a smart strategy by AT&T, though ultimately they may have been forced to do it for competitive reasons,” said Mike Jude, an analyst with Frost & Sullivan’s Stratecast unit. “This provides incentive for U-verse subscribers to get all their content from AT&T and not Netflix.”

AT&T also plans to unveil details of its new package of home-monitoring and security services, called Digital Life. The services include wireless cameras for home surveillance, remote control of thermostats, lighting and appliances, and 24- hour security with call-center support.

The phone company announced the services in May and will provide information on price and national availability at an event today in Las Vegas, just before the technology industry’s Consumer Electronics Show opens tomorrow.