NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Billionaire activist investor Carl Icahn has acquired a 10% stake in Netflix (NFLX), saying publicly that he views the popular online video site as a takeover target for larger media, tech and telecommunications giants.
Shareholders are typically paid a hefty premium over the market price of their stock when their company is acquired, and Icahn is a brilliant investor. He knows the video entertainment business well, and he has numerous facts to back him up on this one. But I doubt he'll be received well by Netflix founder and CEO Reed Hastings.
That's where I suspect this is all headed -- a public tussle between Icahn and Hastings over the sale of Netflix. Right now, Icahn is talking nice about Hastings, praising him for expanding internationally and developing original series and calling him a "smart guy."
But anyone who has watched Icahn closely over the years knows that he typically buys big stakes in companies because he sees an opportunity to push them in a new direction that will raise their market value in a short span of time.Usually, this situation is the result of a management team that is resistant to heading in Icahn's preferred direction. When they refuse to heed his advice, Icahn then accuses them of acting against the interests of shareholders and embarks on a campaign to build shareholder support and force their hand. More often than not, Icahn gets what he wants, and he has amassed a sizeable fortune to prove it. In many cases, company leaders that resist Icahn wind up being shown the door. As a result, it's not uncommon for companies to hire armies of lawyers, bankers and public relations operatives to thwart his efforts, and no corporate executive on the planet -- least of all Netflix's Hastings -- is happy to hear that Icahn has taken an interest in their shares. It's the corporate equivalent of finding out that Tom Brady has taken an interest in your girlfriend, and he's taking her out for a night on the town. Don't wait up!
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