Ryssdal: All right, so before we get to the big winners, tell me how you guys figure out who the winners are?
Sauer: For the last decade we've been watching each one of the No. 1 films at the box office each weekend and tracking all of the identifiable brands and product placements in each one of those films and then adding to a searchable database by brand, film, year, and everything.
Sauer: The No. 1 product that appeared in more of the U.S. top films last year than any other was Apple.
Ryssdal: Shocking. Shocking.
Sauer: Yeah, Apple appeared in almost twice as many No. 1 films as did the nearest brand.
Ryssdal: Now let me ask you this: Other than tapping into the, 'Oh my gosh, everybody loves Apple' zeitgeist, why do producers want Apple or Ford or whatever it is in their movie?
Sauer: Well there's a number of reasons. First, Apple has a very good... They don't pay for product placement, but they have a very good system.
Ryssdal: Wait. Wait. Wait. Wait. Wait. I thought the whole thing about product placement was that companies paid movie producers to use their stuff?
Sauer: I think that's what everybody thinks. But the vast majority of product placement, actually, there's no money changing hands really I would say. Apple has a good infrastructure for getting products to sets so that people can use it for free, so I guess Apple does pay in the sense that they supply free product. But the truth is a lot of products are used as shorthand in development for characters on-screen in ways that audiences don't always see.
Ryssdal: Is there a way to figure out, then, how much this is worth to Apple or whoever else it is?
Sauer: Valuation is still a hard thing to do in the industry, and there are different systems to do it. We worked this year for the first time with a group called Front Row Marketing and they came up with some big numbers. "Mission Impossible" for example, the value of the Apple product placement in that film was over $23 million.
14 minutes ago