Updated from 10 a.m.
has hired Goldman Sachs to explore the acquisition of
Goldman was hired by AT&T about a month ago, says a source familiar with the companies. It was around that time that EchoStar said it was considering splitting its TV broadcasting operations from its wholesale satellite transmission business.
The move adds more fuel to the deal developments
first reported last month by
, and comes as Citigroup issued an analyst note saying it expects that AT&T will pay $65 a share to buy EchoStar's TV business.
AT&T said it had no comment. "We are not commenting," an EchoStar representative said.
"I think they want to get this deal done this year, I'd give it three to six weeks to put it together," says another source who follows both companies.
The deal would give AT&T control over the video offering to supplement its delayed and costly TV-via-Internet effort. The push to get the deal underway now comes from the perception that the current pro-deal, Republican-led regulatory agencies could change if a Democratic administration is elected next year, observers say.
Speculation that AT&T would want to take over its satellite TV partner has been circulating for more than a year.
Last month, sensing a deal in the works, Oppenheimer analyst Tom Eagan raised his rating on the Dish satellite broadcaster to a buy, speculating in a research note Thursday that AT&T would likely pay about $56 a share for the TV service.
EchoStar also improved its chances last month by saying it would pay $380 million for TV-over-the-Internet device maker
and possibly incorporate the technology as part of its consumer TV service.
The Slingbox device could be part of a key service offering down the road as new radio wave spectrum becomes available to so-called open standard devices, says one person familiar with the companies.
AT&T shares rose 7 cents to $42.26 and EchoStar was up 81 cents to $49.85 in early trading Tuesday.