(Adds details on Lazard telecoms banking, boutique banks' rise in M&A)
NEW YORK, May 14 (Reuters) - AT&T Inc is working with investment bank Lazard Ltd as it negotiates a potential takeover of DirecTV, the country's top satellite TV operator, according to people familiar with the matter.
AT&T is in active discussions to buy DirecTV for low to mid-$90s per share, or nearly $50 billion, and is working to finalize a deal in the next few weeks, Reuters reported on Monday.
Lazard, which advised Leap Wireless International on its $1.2 billion sale to AT&T last year, is advising the wireless giant this time around, the people said, asking not to be named because the matter is not public.
The company has yet to bring in large balance sheet banks for deal financing, according to the people, indicating that any deal may take a few more weeks to materialize.
Representatives for AT&T declined to comment while Lazard did not respond to requests for comment.
Reuters and others previously reported that DirecTV is working with advisers including Goldman Sachs Group to weigh a potential deal with AT&T.
The proposed deal, if it happens, would be a big payday for Wall Street banks that are enjoying a revival in mergers and acquisitions after several years of lackluster activity following the financial crisis.
Based on a roughly $48 billion deal, advisers for AT&T could earn between $40 million and $60 million in advisory fees, while DirecTV's advisers could earn $50 million to $75 million, according to preliminary estimates by consulting firm Freeman & Co LLC. Those figures do not include any financing fees.
Banks pursue big-ticket deals not only for revenue but also for prestige. Lazard's advisory role with AT&T also underscores a growing trend of smaller investment banks, or boutiques, winning larger deals often at the expense of mega banks.
In February, boutique advisory Allen & Co scored the prized role of advising Facebook Inc on its $19 billion acquisition of smartphone-messaging app WhatsApp. Paul Taubman, a former top Morgan Stanley banker who is now acting on his own, was lead adviser to Comcast Corp on its $45 billion deal for Time Warner Cable Inc this year.
Lazard's global telecommunications banking team is led by veteran banker George "Woody" Young, who joined the bank in 2009 from Merrill Lynch where he served as global head of technology, media and telecommunications.
During his career, Young has advised on major transactions for the world's largest telecommunications companies, including three mega deals involving AT&T - Cingular on its $41 billion merger with AT&T Wireless, SBC on its $22 billion merger with AT&T, AT&T on its $89 billion merger with BellSouth.
Considered one of Wall Street's most experienced telecom bankers, he also served as an adviser on other headline deals that reshaped the industry, including working with Sprint Corp on its $46.5 billion merger with Nextel that created Sprint Nextel Corp.
(Reporting by Soyoung Kim in New York; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)