There could be interesting times ahead at Farifax, now that David Evans has joined the board and Fred Hilmer is staying on to help with the search for a new CEO.

Fred Hilmer will stay for all of 2005 if necessary to help his employer, media group, John Fairfax, out of its CEO search problem now that Doug Flynn has departed the scene.

And Fairfax has also appointed one of Australia’s most experienced television executives in David Evans to its board, a direct confirmation of its interest in TV once the cross media laws are relaxed late this year.

Evans is one of Australia’s most experienced international TV executives, with a long history of being a local operator in Australia for the Packer empire.

With Fairfax rumoured last month to have shown interest in the Ten Network, Evans’ appointment will re-ignite those stories.

TV executives of his calibre do not simply join the board of a company like Fairfax without some desire on the part of the company to use his long experience and contacts.

These two pieces of news tended to overshadow a higher interim profit from Fairfax, with earnings before interest and tax up 17% to 212.9 million and after tax, up 26% to $126.1 million. Interim dividend has been raised 2c a share to 7.5c full franked.

Here for a statement on Fairfax’s half-year results.

That result was higher before non-recurring items and also showed a solid rise in cash flow.

A breakdown in the results shows that the New Zealand media business, bought around two years ago to much chortling from analysts and the PBL camp, continues to star. Earnings before interest and tax jumped 26% to $NZ 90 million (around $A82 million) a better performance than the Australian publishing business, which saw earnings before interest tax and depreciation rise only 9.3% to $165.5 million (NZ ebitda rose 21.3% to $NZ 95.3 million or almost $A87 million).

While acknowledging the weakness in circulations across the main metro papers in Australia and in Fairfax Business Media (The Australian Financial Review and BRW), the company again claimed that readership in the “key AB demographic” had improved and market share had risen “in most markets”.

Revenue in Fairfax Business Media rose 4.2% a modest rise to say the least, but no figure was given or basis for comparison. In contrast revenue in Australian publishing rose 5% to $652.3 million and rose 10% in New Zealand (no figures given for comparison).

Revenue for the metro papers (The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and the associated magazines) rose 3.9% to $362.2 million

The small rise in revenue for Fairfax Business Media indicates that no matter the spin, the division and its management have failed to take advantage of the booming stockmarket and best economic conditions for years.

The slide in the AFR weekday and Saturday sales no doubt hurt as well, as did the weaker sales for the magazines, especially BRW.

Fairfax said real estate and car ads were softer, while employment advertising was stronger and offset the weaker areas.

But it was the announcements regarding Hilmer’s continuity at Fairfax and the new director, David Evans that overshadowed the earnings statement.

Following the Evans announcement here’s what chairman Dean Wills said in today’s earnings statement about Evans and Hilmer:

However, in the meantime, as today’s results reflect, Fairfax is well managed under Fred Hilmer’s ongoing leadership, with the company performing strongly across its businesses. Fred Hilmer’s arrangement with the Board has him continuing through calendar 2005 if required.

As announced to the ASX this morning, David Evans has agreed to join the Board. He brings considerable business and media experience to Fairfax and we look forward to working with him.

But from the CV issued with the above statement, David Evans has TV media experience, especially in free to air, cable and satellite areas. He has no print media experience to speak of.

Of interest as well is that when in Australia he was part of the Packer empire, serving seven years as CEO of GTV in Melbourne.

Evans has worked for Murdoch and knows Sam Chisholm well from the Sky days and from the GTV days. Chisholm is a director of PBL (which reports on Thursday).

Evans is President and CEO of Crown Media and prior to that President and CEO of that company’s predecessor, Hallmark Entertainment networks.

Crown owns the Hallmark pay TV channels world wide (on Foxtel in Australia). He has also worked for Tele-Communications International and for Fox, both as President and chief Operating Officer of Fox Television, Fox Broadcasting and later for Sky in Latin America.

This is all the sort of experience any media company in Australia (even PBL) would have sought out. He hasn’t joined the Fairfax board for the scintillating company of Dean Wills, Ron Walker, David Gonski (he’s going) or Roger Corbett.

His media knowledge, especially in TV puts their media experience in the shade.