When Janet Rolle was head of marketing for HBO Home Video, she developed a collection of programs aimed at black viewers.
"Typically African American executives in the media are always on the lookout for opportunities to address that audience," she said.
Starting today, Rolle will be working to reach African American audiences full time in her new job as a vice president of Dulles-based America Online Inc. and general manager of its Black Voices service.
Black Voices is available both to AOL subscribers and to non-subscribers through its Web site, www.blackvoices.com. AOL, a unit of media giant Time Warner Inc., bought the Web site last year and combined it with its other black-oriented Internet content.
The site combines news and entertainment tidbits with community concerns and cultural issues. One day last week, the home page offered both a "Black Family Reunion Guide" and the headline, "Rodman Plays with Lingerie Ladies." Inside pages offered member-to-member e-mail and chat rooms, tips on starting a small business and an essay by an African American Muslim on the world's changing view of his faith.
Bill Wilson, AOL's senior vice president and general manager for programming, said Black Voices is the No. 2 black-oriented service, behind blackplanet.com.
Rolle "brings a great sense of the consumer mindset," Wilson said. "We'll be No. 1 in no time."
After beginning her career at Time Warner's HBO, Rolle most recently worked at Viacom's MTV Networks as vice president for programming enterprises and business development for cable channels VH1 and CMT. She was in charge of ancillary businesses such as CDs, radio programs, book publishing and licensing. She said she was attracted to AOL as an opportunity "to build a great media experience" for black audiences but also to be part of the Internet company's new strategy.
Facing continued decline in its subscription revenue, AOL is moving to make most of its content available on the Web for free in the hope of drawing larger audiences -- and more advertisers. "This is a watershed time, with AOL implementing its new strategy of coming out of the 'walled garden,' " she said.
Rolle, 43, will remain based in New York but said she will spend "significant time" in Dulles. Rolle, who holds a master's degree in business administration from Columbia University, is married and has a 7-year-old son. An avid tennis player and fan, she is chairwoman of the U.S. Tennis Association's Multicultural Participation Committee, which aims to attract more diverse players to the sport.