This was not the case in the early days of film, however.
Instead, the studios either owned or worked in close collaboration with movie theatres, the vast majority of which had only one screen at the time. Instead of being able to choose which movie one wanted to see upon arriving at the theatre, choosing a movie meant choosing which studio's latest picture seemed most appealing, and going to that theatre. The Warner brothers did not have a lot of money to build theatres with; they managed to construct a few in major cities, but that was it until Harry Warner talked to independent theatre owners and convinced them to advertise Warner's films for a small price (BOS 2).
The boost that Warner Brothers Studios got from these advertisements allowed them to grow their business, and even obtain a large loan from Goldman Sachs that was used to build more studio-owned theatres and thus increase Warner Brother's distribution network and market share (BOS 2-3). They were now competing on almost even terms with the "Big Five" production studios -- Universal, Paramount, MGM, First National, and Producers Distributing -- but these other studios had a large head start. The innovation of adding sound to films promised another leg up for the studio, which with more to gain than the established studios also had less to lose. The productions and release of The Jazz Singer in 1927 heralded the birth of a new era in film, and one that irrevocably and radically altered the very conception of cinema itself (Warner Bros par. 4).
Though I set out to learn about how Warner Brothers Studios and Warner entertainment, Inc. became so successful through their films, the more research I conducted the more I realized, somewhat dishearteningly, how little the actual quality of the films mattered, and how essential the business aspects of the enterprise were and are. This importance is highly visible today, as the company even proudly acknowledges its innovations in marketing and licensing, and the ability to derive profits from products based on its movies and other holdings (Warner Bros. par. 5). It is also highly visible in the company's history; though the Rin Tin series and The Jazz Singer can be singled out as essential films and turning points for the company, the real trajectory of the company must be followed through its business decisions, and not through its artistic products.
That being said, the company has still produced many culturally and artistically significant pieces, and not all of them feature films. Working in a somewhat dilapidated building on the Warner Brothers back lot known affectionately as the Termite Terrace, what is perhaps the greatest team of animators ever assembled worked for several decades producing Looney Tunes and other Warner Bros. cartoons. Michigan J. Frog, who was to become the WB mascot, was created by Warner Bros. animator and director Chuck Jones, who also created Pepe Le Pew and Wile E. Coyote, amongst others. Other great names in animation, including the tremendously talented voice actor Mel Blanc and animator/directors Tex Avery (the animation head honcho) and Friz Freleng (who won a total of four Oscars for his cartoons) all worked at Warner bros. Animation for the majority of their lives and careers, producing many of the world's most memorable cartoons and cartoon characters (Animation USA). The fact that this team was both so prolific and so long lived is one of the most surprising and somehow encouraging things I learned in my research.
It is not unusual for research to unearth unsought for details and facts. Though I was somewhat disillusioned by what I discovered regarding the Warner Brothers companies and their rise to prominence in the worlds of cinema and animation, it is also encouraging to know that a simple idea and a lot of work, combine with an astounding level of business acumen, can really pay off in the end. Warner Bros. might be butyl more on business and less on the actual products they deliver, but these products are still classics, and incredibly worthwhile.
Animation USA. "Warner Bros." Accessed 26 November 2009. http://www.animationusa.com/wbmore2.html