Moving digital: Joe Delgado on founding MiT and other milestones
“I firmly believe that if you don’t love this silly little business of ours, you are at a disadvantage,” Joe Delgado first told this author two years ago. At the time, the co-founder and executive VP, sales and marketing, of Moving Image Technologies (MiT) was talking about the company having been selected as the master reseller of digital projection equipment from NEC Display Solutions. “The write up you did about us” in November 2011, he insists today, “had all my quotes and anecdotes about the company and its genesis. I can’t think of anything else to add other than how grateful I am to everyone who helped us get to 10 freakin’ years!”
Anyone who knows Joe will perfectly understand why this author elected to take advantage of the fact that he had nothing else to say. “Joe Delgado Speechless” should’ve been the headline, though nobody would believe it. Thankfully, Film Journal International agreed to have us all revisit the story that is “MiT at 10”—and the man who is Delgado—under those rare conditions. Of course, we did make sure that any and all necessary updates were included.
“The company was founded on a napkin,” the story goes now as it did then. “The idea came to me outside a Chili’s somewhere in Orange County. I was having a cigarette break.” Delgado recalled. “Back in early 2002, I was speaking to some of my future business partners about this and their commitment, getting certain skill sets in place and raising the necessary money.” Chief executive officer Glenn Sherman, for instance, “was always going to be part of the management front, given his expertise in start-ups, taking companies public and all that. And our chairman Phil Rafnson became our major investor.”
On Sept. 10, 2003, the original partners—Bevan Wright, today’s executive VP of operations, and Dave Richards, VP of engineering, along with Sherman and Delgado—“hung out our shingle in a two-room rental office in Huntington Beach.” From the start, “the intent at MiT has been to always bring in the best possible talent, coupled with a love for the industry,” Delgado noted. “That was essentially our mission statement: Get a bunch of talented people that are passionate about providing the best products and the best services from an image technology standpoint.”
Next in line, engineering began work on designing the product line. “Back then, we were still very much convinced that film wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Therefore, we had a three-legged stool approach.” First of all, “we were going to completely redo the film projection systems by re-engineering the best of the best 35mm technology,” he recalled. Culling from a century of expertise, Delgado knew MiT really had the best product. “We manufactured and sold platters, consoles and automation systems. Given our size and scope, we were very successful at addressing the middle to small circuits.”
Philosophically, MiT “was then, and still is today, absolutely customer-driven. Some of the bigger companies were making their product based on what they felt was the best approach. All of our developments came from dealing with the customers directly. In fact, every single product that we manufacture—and this holds true to this day—has always received substantial input from the MiT customer base. Be that from the technology or from the business side, we’ve always tried to address our customers’ needs. Whether we have succeeded or not is for others to decide.” While he was speaking in jest at the time, two more years of expert service have cemented that success.
As the second leg of the technology stool, MiT “had smaller digital projectors for onscreen advertising” and developed related software. “And, of course, we were going to go forward with digital cinema.” In those early days, Delgado said everybody at MiT believed it “was going to be a huge part of our future,” even though “d-cinema was barely in its beta stages. There was not a whole lot going on. While we knew digital cinema was going to take off,” MiT did not have that all-important DLP Cinema projector exclusive until NEC came in. “As the company needed to find its niche in the field, we ended up looking at all the peripherals instead.” Calling upon the entrepreneurial spirit that has become one of MiT’s trademarks, “we asked: What do you need to have a smooth installation, especially as these larger rollouts loomed? On-site work was very labor intensive… In the beginning, per-screen install costs were astronomical. Obviously, the more of that field work you could take out and put into a factory environment instead, making it as plug-and-play as possible, the better. We were taking some of that cap-ex and monetary sting out of the rollout process. So, technology integration and customization became MiT’s big niche, as we went about designing and fabricating equipment, systems and processes to make that install better.”
In general, Delgado still believes today, MiT was “creative in doing a lot of great things because we took advantage of the times. We sold a tremendous amount of 3D systems, but if you don’t have a digital projector, you are relegated to…more of a service company. There is nothing wrong with that. After all, that’s what we were for many, many years.” With the NEC projectors coming in-house, MiT was able to “really take that next step.”
While considering himself and the MiT team “very fortunate,” Delgado also remembered some not-so-pleasant moments. “Making payroll in those early lean years was a bit of a nightmare. The partners took 50% pay cuts so we could maintain full wages and benefits for our employees. Looking back, probably one of the smartest things we did was keeping our talent.” And to move forward on the not-so-good decisions. “When we made the bad ones, we were able to flip them, you know. Take our loss and say, ‘Okay, let’s keep on going.’ Adaptability has always been a hallmark of this company. We were the last company into the film market with technology and engineering, and we were the first one out. When we saw that there was going to be a real rollout, we completely shut down our manufacturing of 35mm systems and transitioned into selling used ones, including to the biggest of the biggest… We did great with that.”
That all-around practical approach did bring MiT into the bidding process for the DCIP group of exhibitors. “Threading that needle with staff and inventory waiting for that proverbial ‘other shoe to drop’ put some additional years on me,” Delgado recalled. “It was a long gestation period, but we were very fortunate to be one of the few companies that were actually selected to even bid. In the beginning it was a very large pool, which was culled down to a handful of final RFPs. Ultimately, MiT ended up winning the integration bid for Cinemark and DCIP. That was big for us and put us in the majors. We were kicking around Triple-A ball for a long time, but when were awarded the DCIP job, that got us up into the Moneyball league.”
With NEC on board, things certainly did get even bigger. “As we became closer business partners with them, a certain confidence level developed when NEC looked at our engineering and business skill sets. They began thinking maybe it was a good idea to at least talk about putting on an additional master reseller.” Those discussions started in earnest in June 2011 and, after many ideas and reports exchanged and due diligence done, MiT became “the official NEC factory-direct distributor and reseller for the USA and Canada, Mexico, Central and South America and the Caribbean.”
Ever since, MiT has been “selling the current NEC product line to dealers and service companies as well, so that they can continue to supply their customers.” Then as now, Delgado confirmed, “we are big proponents of the dealer and service network, and want to continue to support that infrastructure. We feel very strongly that there are many existing relationships between dealers and service providers and their cinema customers. MiT does not want to get in the way of those relationships, but we want to support them.”
The same holds true for MiT’s exhibitor customers. With help from that network of dealers, the company installed and sold several thousand d-cinema systems from both NEC and Barco, delivering on Delgado’s promise to “actively and aggressively go after supporting the remaining independents with a comprehensive plan that includes every facet of the rollout, from financing and virtual print fees, to the projector and complete integration package.”
That promise to and passion for the exhibition business have been front and center at Moving Image Technologies for the past ten years. “Your readers know as well as I do that there are a lot of passionate guys and gals in our cracked little world, right? That’s why there are so many good people that just don’t want to leave the cinema business.” Whether as a person or a company, “if you have a skill set, yes, that’s great,” Delgado has observed over time. “But if you don’t have that passion, you are going to be at a disadvantage against those that do.”
It also helps to make good friends along the way. During ShowEast, many will be coming over in great numbers to congratulate MiT. “We are looking forward to seeing you all,” Joe Delgado says, breaking his silence. “I just really wanted to add that.”
No Average Joe: Close-up on Joe Delago
“The most exciting moment was the day we hung out our shingle: September 10, 2003. The proudest? Having reached our tenth year and being awarded as ‘Manufacturer of the Year’ by our colleagues of the International Cinema Technology Association at the same time.”
Before co-founding MiT, Joe Delgado spent 15 years at Christie in increasing positions of responsibility, as national sales manager, director of sales and VP of sales. During his tenure, he increased by tenfold the cinema presentation product sales of Christie, helping the company become a major force in the cinema industry. Previously he held various positions at JVC, including sales representative for video products for the Las Vegas, Nevada and Los Angeles markets.
His favorite movie theatre memory comes from Aliso Viejo, also located in California. “I took my young teenage son and his friend to see Avatar on the massive digital 3D screen at Regal/Edwards Theatres 20. For the duration of the film, I was every bit the kid they were.” The Godfather I and II are Delgado’s top titles even as he prefers his movie treats from the top shelf. “To this day, when I am channel-surfing and I see that either of those movies is on, I’ll stop and watch, no matter where they are in the story.” At the cinema, “I still love a hot dog and a Coke or Pepsi. But with the advent of the dine-in and VIP cinemas, the occasional top-shelf tequila or single malt is appreciated. Man, I love this industry!”
Not surprisingly, in Delgado’s book that will always be the case. “I know this about the future,” he insists, “there will always be movie theatres! Moviegoing is part of the American social fabric. For some, a rite of passage, you know, that first date, that first kiss… So however that future evolves,” Delgado reassures, “we will be proudly serving all our friends in exhibition in that future."