The WB may not be television’s biggest ratings generator, but the network continues to remain a favorite among advertisers on Madison Avenue.

Much of that can be attributed to who’s watching. With a string of shows such as “7th Heaven,” “Gilmore Girls,” “One Tree Hill,” “Everwood,” “Smallville,” “Reba,” “What I Like About You” and “Dawson’s Creek,” the WB has been able to consistently lure the lucrative 12-34 demo and core audience of women 18-34. Teens and families are tuning in and advertisers are eager to pull out their wallets and target them.

That’s despite the fact that viewership is declining — down to 3.6 million from 4.1 million this past season. During the last upfront negotiations, the WB saw its ad sales decline from $710 million to $675 million — but that’s up from $425 million in 2000.

Popular on Variety

While the net may be trying for an older aud in addition to holding on to its current teen viewers — “Jack & Bobby” has misfired in the ratings so far but it’s an attempt to skew older — others say that tack may not be the best move.

“It’s really seen as a network, along with UPN, that’s most ideally suited to reach viewers who are just beginning to establish their purchasing patterns and brand preferences,” says Shari Anne Brill, Carat USA’s director of programming. “It also has a demo that goes after dual entry points with programming that appeals to families and kids, alike.”

While advertisers may be flocking to the network to buy ads, brand-backed programming has already been filling the network’s slate of shows for some time.

The development of several of the WB’s biggest hits, such as “Gilmore Girls,” has been paid for by brands as part of the network’s relationship with the Family Friendly Programming Forum, The consortium is made up of 48 national advertisers including Procter & Gamble, Sears, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson, which fund the development of pilot scripts.

The network also has been making inroads with advertisers when it comes to product placement and sponsorships. Last year, the WB created what it dubs a Preferred Partnership program that gives advertisers the exclusive product placement rights in its shows. The group is a joint effort between the WB’s sales and marketing departments and various TV production studios. Since the formation of the group, Procter & Gamble has snagged “What I Like About You,” while Verizon phoned in “Smallville.”

For example, as part of the pacts, P&G’s Herbal Essences was featured in an episode of “What I Like About You,” with its stars Amanda Bynes and Allison Munn competing with singer Jadyn Maria to appear in a commercial for the shampoo. The actual spot, featuring Maria singing “Rock You Senseless,” appeared during the next commercial break.

Earlier in the season, an episode of “What I Like About You” guest-starred a Tempur-Pedic Swedish mattress, with the show’s stars Bynes and Jennie Garth, interacting with the product on the show.

On the sponsorship front, the WB generated strong ratings for its “Play for a Million,” which was backed by the Pepsi Cola Co.

The formation of the Preferred Partnership program could pay off for the WB in the future. Especially as an increasing number of advertisers spend less on traditional TV spots and print ads and more on integrating themselves into shows as a way to combat fast-forwarding features on digital video recording devices like TiVo.

Not all of the WB’s efforts with advertisers have paid off, however.

The Ford Motor Co.-backed reality series “No Boundaries” stalled, as did teen sudser “Young Americans,” which served as a showcase for Coca-Cola.

Media buyers await the choices the WB’s new chief David Janollari will be making, and predict that the network will go back to its roots and greenlight more teen- and family-friendly scripted fare.

“Going back to its roots will be a good thing for the WB,” Brill says. “If the WB can deliver solid ratings to their core demos, that’ll be a win-win for everyone. They’ve been able to attract the movie dollars and snack food dollars. That’s very lucrative.

“As their viewers get older, they’ll constantly have to figure out ways to bring in younger audiences. It would behoove them to continue to program to those types of customers.”