By CONSTANCE L. HAYS
PEARLAND, Tex. - Here in the Houston suburbs, Banana-Vision has arrived. That's the industry nickname for the 42-inch high-definition L.C.D. monitor installed directly over a pyramid of bright yellow bananas in the produce section of the local Wal-Mart store.
This TV screen and others scattered through the store are part of the Wal-Mart TV Network, a Web network of in-store programming that the company started in 1998. These days it shows previews of soon-to-be-released movies, snippets of sports events and rock concerts, and corporate messages from the world of Wal-Mart, including some intended to improve its battered public image.
But the principal reason for Wal-Mart TV is to show a constant stream of consumer product ads purchased by companies like Kraft, Unilever, Hallmark and PepsiCo. And little wonder. According to Wal-Mart and to an agency that handles its ad sales, the TV operation captures some130 million viewers every four weeks, making it the fifth-largest television network in the United States after NBC, CBS, ABC and Fox.
While other retailers have experimented with in-store television, Wal-Mart's network, which is available in almost all its 2,600 locations, is the most extensive. The company, eager to promote it, is upgrading its broadcasting plans and equipment.