Network Ten, the Australian commercial broadcaster owned by Paramount, has dropped out of negotiations to retain free-to-air (FTA) rights to the Melbourne Cup, Australia’s top horse racing event, opening the door for fellow commercial networks Seven and Nine.

Network Ten officially announced its withdrawal from the bidding process with event hosts Victoria Racing Club (VRC), citing changes in the nature of an agreement between betting company Tabcorp and VRC as key to its decision. As the incumbent, Ten had first refusal on the rights for 2024 onwards.

Ten is in its final year of a record five-year, AUD100-million ($72.1-million) cash and contra deal running from 2019 to 2023. It took over from long-term rightsholder Seven Network, which held the rights for a long stretch from 2002 to 2018.

Ahead of last year’s event, the broadcaster launched a FAST channel dedicated to the carnival on its 10 Play streaming service which featured content including complete broadcasts of past race days.

However, earlier this month, Tabcorp secured a deal with VRC which saw it take control of all broadcast rights for the first time, including FTA television, digital, and pay-TV. Under that deal, Tabcorp will then sub-license the FTA rights for the cup, as per the requirements of the federal government’s anti-siphoning rules.

Tabcorp also has control of international rights for the next two years under a separate deal with VRC.

Sources told The Australian news outlet that potential sponsors were uncertain they wanted to advertise during the cup if the programs were dominated by gambling ads.

They added that the VRC and Tabcorp have also insisted on controlling production and commentary during race day coverage to showcase talent and branding from the Tabcorp-owned Sky Racing channel.

In a statement, Ten said: “Network Ten has declined Tabcorp’s and the VRC’s invitation to progress further in the process to secure broadcast rights for the Melbourne Cup Carnival after the current agreement finishes with this year’s carnival.

“Throughout the course of the current negotiations, it became clear that the nature of the agreement between Tabcorp and the VRC would require a move towards a core racing and wagering-focused broadcast product.

“Given this likely change in focus combined with commercial constraints of the future agreement, Network Ten considered the preferences of its viewers and advertisers, and politely declined to move forward with the process.”

The move has opened the door for commercial broadcasters Seven West Media and Nine Entertainment to succeed Network Ten as the FTA broadcaster for the event. The Sydney Morning Herald, owned by Nine Entertainment, said the two remaining broadcasters are expected to make their bids to Tabcorp and VRC next week.

This year's Melbourne Cup is on November 7.