Update: After speaking with a source at Netflix, I can confirm that Netflix is not losing PBS content in the sense that you will no longer see PBS content on Netflix. You will continue to see some titles. The source could not comment on any specific title, other than to note that Amazon did indeed get the exclusive deal for Downton Abbey. Any other titles on the list you may or may not see on Netflix after July 1st.
Basically, it's business as usual. Netflix is doing what it always does. Some content comes and goes. Typically if enough people are watching a title, Netflix will keep it around. If they're not watching it, Netflix will decide it's not worth it to keep paying for it. In the case of the titles in question, most probably just aren't getting enough views to make it worth Netflix's money.
A reddit user suggests that Netflix Instant could be getting ready to lose a bunch of PBS titles on July 1st.
"I was just browsing titles on the PS3, which I have found shows expirations sooner than the site (for me at least)," writes user herky140, before listing about 65 titles that reportedly say they will be no longer available as of that date. Among them are Downton Abbey, a bunch of Ken Burns documentaries, several Neil deGrasse Tyson Nova scienceNow titles, a number of titles in the "American Experience" series, and a bunch of Frontlines.
While I didn't run through the entire list, I did check several of the titles from Netflix's web interface, and they do say "Streaming until 7/1/2013."
"It should be clarified that just because these titles are listed as expiring on July 1, it doesn't mean that they actually will disappear on July 1," notes herky140. "Rather, it means that these titles are under a contract that expires July 1, which may or may not get reupped. This list should not sensationalize the loss of titles, this happens all the time, Netflix's catalog is constantly in flux. However, if you have been planning on watching any of these titles, it might be a good idea to check them out before July 1, just in case."
Of course, you could always go the DVD route.
There are other PBS titles that do not say anything about expiration dates, as the redditor notes. This includes kids shows like Curious George, Sesame Street, Arthur, and some other Ken Burns documentaries.
Earlier this year, news came out that Amazon had secured exclusive access to Downton Abbey, meaning that it would disappear from Netflix and Hulu, though an exact date wasn't given. Now, with it "streaming until July 1st" it seems unlikely that it will be back in the foreseeable future. The fate of the rest of these titles remains unclear.
It's a good thing the kids shows appear to be sticking around, given that Netflix recently lost a bunch of kids content from Nickelodeon, and is currently pushing its family-friendly content to new users. The company did just ink a huge deal with DreamWorks that will help.
We've reached out to Netflix for comment, and will update when we receive one.