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Netflix shares soar on rumors of Microsoft takeover

When shares in Netflix rose dramatically on Friday, many were left scratching their heads wondering what could’ve caused such a sudden change, especially as it came only days after the online video subscription service posted a weak set of financial figures for its third quarter.

The spike saw Netflix shares hit $69.58 at the close of trading, marking a significant 13 percent rise. A Forbes report over the weekend claimed that rumors on Wall Street of a possible acquisition by Microsoft caused the excitement, stoked by the announcement earlier this month of the imminent departure of Netflix CEO Reed Hastings from the Microsoft board. If such a takeover was in the pipeline, Hastings would, of course, have to put some clear blue water between himself and Microsoft to avoid a conflict-of-interest situation, hence news of his departure.

Forbes noted that “buying Netflix would be in keeping with Microsoft’s revamped philosophy on the Xbox 360, which treats the device more like an entertainment device and less like a video game console,” and added that Steve Ballmer’s firm appears to have a penchant for Web brands, demonstrated by its purchase of Skype for $8.5 billion in 2011 as well as an earlier attempt to acquire Yahoo. It would also enable it to better compete with other giants in the online video market, such as Google and Apple.

Microsoft is certainly flush with cash at the minute ($66 billion in cash and investments, to be precise), so a buyout of Netflix – which has a market cap of $3.7 billion – would be like a trip to the candy store for the Redmond-based company.

However, the fact is that at this stage there’s no firm evidence indicating that Microsoft is about to do what the rumors suggest. Hastings doesn’t actually leave the board until the end of November, so even if a buyout was in the works, it wouldn’t happen until at least December. It looks like we’re going to have to wait this one out.

What do you think? Would an acquisition be a match made in heaven for Microsoft and Netflix, and a boon for the consumer? Or quite the opposite?