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Why AT&T Could Be Looking for Hollywood Acquisitions Worth Up to $50 Billion

Updated: Oct 05, 2016 2:51 PM UTC

Fresh off its almost $50 billion purchase of DirecTV, AT&T is on the prowl for more media acquisitions, according to a report on Wednesday.

The telecommunications giant, which also became the largest pay TV provider in the country by buying DirecTV, is now looking for content creators to buy in the range of $2 billion to $50 billion over the next three to five years, Bloomberg reported, citing anonymous sources. AT&T declined to comment to Fortune.

While AT&T has made a few smaller content-related deals, completing a large deal might be more challenging. The company already has $120 billion in debt. Its stock trades at a price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio of less than 17, making it difficult for the company to use its own shares to acquire media companies that trade at much higher valuations. The price-to-earnings ratio compares a company’s stock price to its earnings per share and reflects how optimistic investors are about future prospects for growth.

If AT&T tried to acquire Netflix (nflx), which is worth less than $50 billion but trades at a P/E ratio of over 300, it would significantly dilute its own earnings per share, for example.

Shares of AT&T dropped 1% in morning trading on Wednesday.

The telco giant (t) is focused on reducing its costs for the rights to traditional television programming for its 25 million DirecTV satellite subscribers and U-verse cable TV customers. Acquiring a Hollywood studio or other content creators would make it cheaper to provide programming to its own video customers. AT&T made a "serious bid" for premium cable network Starz, but lost out to Lions Gate Entertainment (lgf), Bloomberg reported. AT&T has also looked at buying Paramount Pictures and Yahoo (yhoo) before it was sold to Verizon Communications, Bloomberg noted.

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AT&T is also readying its own Internet-delivered video service that will simulate a traditional cable TV package—but at a lower price. It will need more content for that service, though the company has already struck Internet video deals with several major content providers, including Disney (dis), Time Warner's (twx) HBO and Turner Networks, and Comcast's (cmcsa) NBC Universal.

Buying major media companies would put AT&T on the same path as Comcast, which owns NBC Universal, rather than the strategies being pursued by its telecom competitors. Verizon (vz) has acquired major digital properties AOL and Yahoo and built its own digital video service Go90, but eschewed mega-mergers for traditional content companies. T-Mobile (tmus) has promoted use of all manner of existing video services, like YouTube (googl) and Hulu, but hasn't made any acquisitions.