Netflix is engaging in preliminary talks with Comcast and Suddenlink to make its streaming service available as an app on the cable operators’ set-top boxes.

The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that the discussions were in the early stages and that a deal with either cable operator wasn’t imminent. 

Striking a deal with either Comcast or Suddenlink would mark the first time that Netflix has been able to partner with a cable operator in the United States, but it does have similar deals in hand with Virgin Media and Com Hem. Virgin Media launched a pilot test of Netflix last month to 40,000 of its TiVo users while Suddenlink first deployed TiVo boxes three years ago.

The Wall Street Journal reported that one of the sticking points in the negotiations with Comcast and Suddenlink was the provision that the cable operators join its Open Connect, which is its private content delivery network (CDN.)  

Netflix’s Open Connect was launched early last year. Netflix has said ISPs could receive its video directly at the interconnection point of the ISP’s choice, or closer to the edge of a cable operator’s network via its Open Connect Appliance chassis.  

ISPs that have signed on to use Netflix’s free Open Connect program include RCN, Google Fiber, Cablevision, Suddenlink, Virgin Media, British Telecom, Telmex, Telus, TDC, and GVT.

The Wall Street Journal said that cable pay-TV subscribers could access the Netflix app via the newer set-top boxes that they are deploying. Comcast’s X1 platform, which is slated to be available across its entire footprint by year’s end, supports Internet apps. While Comcast was initially reluctant to add apps for online video services onto its X1 boxes earlier this year, it has since warmed to the idea, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Netflix has also had some recent success with content owners in regards to offering more of their videos over the Internet, which could be attractive to cable operators as a means to bypass difficult retransmission agreements when they crop up.

Suddenlink declined to comment on the talks with Netflix while Comcast didn’t respond by deadline this morning.