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Time Warner: Warner Bros and Warner Communications

Warner Bros and Warner Communications

This profile considers Warner Bros studio and Warner Communications, the US media group that merged with Time Inc to form Time Warner.

It covers -

  • Introduction
  • The studio
  • Warner Communications
  • After the merger
  • Studies


In 1989 Time Inc, examined on the first page of this profile, acquired Warner Communications, Inc. for US$14 billion.

The studio

The Warner Brothers Studio was founded in Hollywood in 1923 by Harry Warner (1881-1958) and brothers Albert (1882-1967), Sam (1887-1927) and Jack (1892-1978). Establishment was driven by the desirability of securing content for cinemas and film exchanges controlled by the brothers and their associates. It reflected similar integration by groups such as MGM and Paramount.

The three oldest brothers were born in Poland; Jack was born in Ontario. By 1903 the Warners had changed their name (from Eichelbaum) and opened a nickelodeon in New Castle, Pennsylvania, going on to acquire other venues in the US east coast. In 1912 they began film production in New York City and opened a studio in California (in Sunset Strip, LA) in 1918. Jack served as production chief, with Albert looking after distribution and Harry acting as corporate president of a group that integrated production, distribution and exhibition.

In 1925 Warners established the Vitaphone Co. using technology from AT&T, beginning experimental sound pictures at the Warner Vitagraph studio in Brooklyn. A year later Warners Don Juan, starring John Barrymore, featured music but no spoken dialogue. In 1927 Warners moved Vitaphone to Hollywood and released Al Jolson's The Jazz Singer, a box-office hit generally considered to mark the breakthrough into talking pictures. That - and endorsement by AT&T - enabled them to get backing for acquisition of First National Pictures (studios in Burbank, California) and the Stanley Company's 250 cinemas.

During the 1930s the studio became known for noir films - sometimes accused of glorifying the gangster lifestyle - and costume epics such as Robin Hood and The Crimson Pirate. Warner stars included James Cagney, Edward G Robinson, Humphrey Bogart and Errol Flynn. The Warner cartoon studio (centred on Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck) began in 1930 with refugees from Disney (notably animators Rudolf Ising and Friz Freleng). It entered the music business in 1930 with acquisition of Brunswick Records and four music publishers for US $28 million; those operations were sold by the end of the decade.

In 1948 Warners was the first major US studio to show a color newsreel and sold much of its film library to MGM. That did not perceptibly lessen the impact of television - the brothers failed to proceed with a proposal to buy the ABC network - or relinquishment of its US exhibition operations in the 1950s following the Paramount Consent Decree. The end of the 'studio system' had begun in 1944, with a court ruling that Warners must release Olivia de Havilland after a 7 year contract. Warners had increased its stake in ABPC to 37.5% in 1945 but in 1949 was ordered to divest cinema chain.

Harry and Albert sold their stake in 1956 but Jack Warner remained as executive in charge of production until 1967 when he sold his stake in Warners - and thus control of the group (inc Warner Bros. Records and Reprise Records) - to Seven Arts Productions. The overall cost of the deal was around US$95 million. Seven Arts, which had been founded in 1957 by Ray Stark (1914-2004) and Eliot Hyman, then merged with its subsidiary, becoming Warner-Seven Arts.

Warner Bros. Records had been launched in 1958, gaining attention for a 1960 deal with the Everly Brothers - supposedly the first million dollar record contract. In 1963 it acquired Reprise Records, founded by Frank Sinatra in 1960. Seven Arts purchased Atlantic Records in 1967.

Warner Communications

Durting 1967 DC Comics (founded 1937), All-American Comics and Ashley Famous talent agency had been acquired by parking-lot to funeral parlour group Kinney National Services. The conglomerate had been formed in 1966 through the merger of the Kinney Parking Company and the National Cleaning Company.

In 1969 Warner-Seven Arts was acquired by Kinney National. In 1971, amid financial scandal over its parking operations (spun off and acquired by Central Parking in 1998 for US$205 million), Kinney was renamed Warner Communications. In the preceding year Warner Music opened in Australia and the group bought Elektra records (founded by Jac Holzman in 1950) for US$10 million, subsequently combining its music operations under the Warner Elektra Asylum (WEA) banner.

During 1976 Warner Communications acquired Atari from Nolan Bushnell for US$28 million, only to unload most of Atari to Jack Tramiel (the founder of Commodore Computers) in 1984. It sold Panavision and its cosmetics business at that time. A resurgent Warner paid Polygram some US$275 million for Chappell Music publishing in 1987. During the following year WEA acquired Teldec records (Germany) and Magnet records (UK)

In 1990 Warner Communications merged with Time Inc. to form Time Warner.

After the merger

In 1995 Warner Bros - and the Time Warner film and audio arm - created the WB Network as a broadcast outlet for Warner Brothers' programming.


Connie Bruck, author of The Predator's Ball, provided the best study of Steve Ross and Warner Communications in Master of the Game: Steve Ross & the Creation of Time Warner (New York: Simon & Schuster 1994).

Context for the first fifty years is provided by the essential Movies & Money: Financing the American Film Industry (Norwood: Ablex 1982) by Janet Wasko, The American Film Industry (Madison: Uni of Wisconsin Press 1985) edited by Tino Balio and The American Movie Industry: The Business of Motion Pictures (Carbondale: Southern Illinois Uni Press 1982) edited by Gorham Kindem. Douglas Gomery's superb The Hollywood Studio System (New York: St Martins 1986) and Thomas Schatz' The Genius of the System (New York: Simon & Schuster 1988) can be supplemented by Hollywood In The Age of Television (Boston: Unwin Hyman 1990) edited by Tino Balio

For the Warner studio see Jack Warner's thin memoir My First Hundred Years in Hollywood (New York: Random House 1965) and Clown Prince of Hollywood: The Antic Life & Times of Jack L. Warner (New York: McGraw-Hill 1990) by Bob Thomas.

Charles Higham's Warner Brothers (New York: Scribner 1975) concentrates on the warts; Here's Looking at You, Kid: 50 Years of Fighting, Working, and Dreaming at Warner Bros (Boston: Little-Brown 1976) by James Silke looks at the stars. The Warner Bros. Story (New York: Crown 1979) by Clive Hirschhorn and Inside Warner Bros. (1935-1951) (New York: Viking 1986) offer photos and anecdotes, complemented by the more searching A New Deal in Entertainment: Warner Brothers in the 1930s (London: BFI 1983) from Nick Roddick.

We have noted Richard Clurman's To The End of Time (New York: Simon & Schuster 1992) for its insider's-eye view of the Warner takeover of the Time-Life empire in a previous bout of industry consolidation. The three volume Time Inc: The Intimate History of a Publishing Enterprise (New York: Atheneum 1968-1986) by Robert Elson is a solid corporate history.

Fredric Dannen's Hit Men: Power Brokers & Fast Money Inside The Music Business (New York: Vintage 1991) is an acerbic expose of fine times among the contemporary music business. Norman Lebrecht's When The Music Stops (New York: Simon & Schuster 1996) provides a similar account of classical music recording.

Tom King's David Geffen: A Biography Of New Hollywood (London: Hutchinson 2000) suggests that while industry structures have changed - more independent production for example - the personalities haven't. Stephen Singular's The Rise & Rise of David Geffen (New York: Birch Lane 1997) is less substantial.

For Atlantic see Music Man: Ahmet Ertegun, Atlantic Records, & the Triumph of Rock 'n' Roll (New York: 1990) by Dorothy Wade & Justine Picardie, Making Tracks: Atlantic Records and the Growth of a Multi-Billion-Dollar Industry (London: Panther 1975) by Charlie Gillett and Exploding: The Highs, Hits, Hype, Heroes, and Hustlers of the Warner Music Group (New York: HarperCollins 2003) by Stan Cornyn & Paul Scanlon.

Christopher Byron's The Fanciest Dive: What Happened When The Media Empire of Time/Life Leaped Without Looking Into The Age of High Tech (New York: Norton 1986) is overly anecdotal but suggests that the suits at AOLTW are rediscovering - the hard way - that 'it ain't as easy as it looks'.

Digital Babylon (New York: Arcade 1999) by John Geirland & Eva Sonesh-Kedar is a similar account of Hollywood meets the internet.

For perspectives on the evolving cable television industry we recommend Vertical Integration in Cable Television (Cambridge: MIT Press 1997) by David Waterman & Andrew Weiss.

For DC Comics see Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters and the Birth of the Comic Book (New York: Basic Books 2004) by Gerard Jones.