What you need to know about lower thirds and their use

Example of a lower third
Example of a lower third | © videohive

In the TV business and with videos, a lower third is generally understood to be a person’s name that is superimposed. In this article you will find everything you need to know about it.

Lower thirds can occur in different forms. It is a misunderstanding that they can only be used as carriers of a person’s name and functions. Here you can find out why.

The most important things for you in a nutshell

  • The term lower third is used to describe parts of text in the moving image.
  • Lower thirds transport written information.
  • At the same time, as part of the so-called screen design (also called on-air design in TV), they are a design tool and part of
  • the corporate identity (brand).
  • Visual and textual information must be specifically coordinated.
  • Information about templates and what you have to consider when archiving videos with lower thirds to avoid trouble later on can be found further down in this article.

What you need to know about lower thirds

What was technically and creatively very complex in the early days of video can now be easily mastered with image editing programs such as Adobe Premiere, After Effects or Da Vinci Black Magic and Avid. As a result, there are now countless types and forms of how graphic overlays look and – as a consequence – can be placed on a screen.

In the English language, this type of title was always displayed in the lower third of the picture. Hence the name “Lower Third”. This means the same thing. This also applies to less frequently used terms like ” text inserts” or “graphic overlay”.  Outside of the industry one also speaks of captions. What is always meant by this is the same thing: a lower third.

Types of lower thirds

lower thirds can be distinguished by two criteria: first, by the number of lines they use. Second, they differ by the type of information they convey.

Text insert w/ name and title of a person

In order to save time or for design reasons, TV as well as image and web videos refrain from introducing a person in the picture by words (moderator or off-commentary). Instead, first name and surname, often also function and company for which the portrayed person works, are shown in writing in the lower third.

Example: Classical application of a lower third

Alternatively you can also find: Information on the sitter’s place of residence, party affiliation, hobbies or the place where he or she is currently located. In the case of archive photographs, the corresponding note is usually also part of a lower third.

Lower third to transport information that enhance the storyline

Especially in the docusoap, but also in other genres, a second type of application of text inserts can be found. In this one it is less about naming or locating the person in the picture. Rather, it is about supplementing the image information with statements that the person in the image has made in context at another time.

An example: in a dating show a candidate talks about his last relationship. This may be in a parallel story in the form of a retrospective, which deals with the expectations of the future relationship. Such sequences, usually the person is on a sofa, want to be kept short and taut. For in the parallel plot the two protagonists have possibly just met for the first time.

So in this case it’s all about conveying a maximum of information in a short time. Concretely, therefore, is written in the graphic overlay:

“Franz doesn’t like empty promises”, while the sitter talks about his expectations. It belongs to the genre and the laws of dramaturgical mechanics, which then logically does just that in the parallel plot.

But you don’t have to push it to such an extreme. Also in an image video additional, valuable information can be conveyed in this way or additional emotions can be triggered.

Example: TV docusoap

docusoap-lower thirds-with-additional information
Dokusoap: Example lower thirds with additional information | © RTL

Differentiation by number of lines

As always, there are no binding rules. Everything is possible that makes sense and can be cognitively absorbed by the viewer.

The following applies:

Single-line text inserts in a video are quicker and easier for the viewer to understand than multi-line subtitles.

The quieter the image content and the simpler the information conveyed on the auditory level, the higher the number of numbers is allowed to be.

Basically, the perception of content on two different levels requires a higher performance from our brain than if we can only concentrate on one way of conveying information.

In practice, there is a further factor: If the lower third is understood as a supplementary picture element with text information, the size of the text is reduced with the number of lines. After all, you don’t want to lay your text over the entire image.

Text inserts as part of the corporate identity

Text inserts are not only used on television to identify the sender and the transmitting vessel.

Any company that regularly uses video to communicate should always use the identical design features. Just as for graphic elements, company brochures or the placement of logos, fade-ins also follow the sender’s corporate design. In this way they contribute to making moving image content indistinguishable.

Differentiation from subtitles and news tickers

Example: News ticker with infobox in TV-News

Newsticker-N24
Example TV news ticker with info box | © N24

The subtitling of videos, i.e. the translation of the original language by means of superimposed text elements at the bottom of the screen, differs from the subtitling of videos in two ways:

  1. the content of a lower third is never a 1 : 1 translated copy of an already existing (audio) information in the video. Conversely, this is precisely the task of subtitles. They are nothing more than a translation of language content into written text.
  2. Subtitles have no screen design with creative intentions. Displayed translation texts do not follow a corporate design and are not a sign of identity of the sender. Whether in white or black text colour, the creative freedom here is limited to choosing a font that is as legible as possible. Depending on the image background, this may be underlaid with a light grey background.

With news tickers, as used by news stations such as CNN, the text content in the lower third is branded, but completely detached from what is happening on the screen. Whether stock market prices or agency reports, here the viewer is offered a second level of information, detached from the actual content.

Screen Design / On Air Design

If you are a self-respecting person, you can design text inserts independently and thus unmistakably.

For TV stations and corporations this is a matter of course today. Based on a detailed briefing, specialized suppliers for screen design (motion design means the same in this context) develop the respective look & feel. These elements, delivered as alpha-channel to the respective video productions or post-production companies for binding submission, are then filled with the necessary editorial text content during image editing.

Those who shy away from the effort of creating an individual graphic overlay can now access a multitude of ready-made templates. Professional editing programs, such as Adobe’s Premiere, even include sample layouts that can be used free of charge.

On the web, the keyword search “Lower Third Templates” offers a huge number of professional templates. Animations included. They are usually available for about 50 € (one-time costs) and can be easily imported into the editing program of choice for further processing. Fonts, colors and text size can, like other design elements, then be freely adapted to your own wishes. Likewise, your own company logo can be imported with a mouse click.

If you take the trouble not to buy the first-best or cheapest layout, but the one that best matches your own corporate identity, you get highly professional lower thirds for little money.

Examples of adaptable templates for Lower Thirds on the Web:

Placement of captions

Usually the name is program: captions are located in the lower third of the image. They thus obey the rules of picture composition.

Text content can also be placed vertically or even adapted to the background image. The main thing is that the captions follow a principle and are not created arbitrarily, i.e. without a concept behind it.

Special: „Clean Feed“ / Archiving

In the case of programme content that is produced by TV stations but is later to be sold to other stations, care must be taken to ensure that there is not only a broadcast tape at the end of production, but also a so-called clean feed. This makes it possible to use a docu soap or a TV show as white label content.

The far more important use case for Cleanfeed for companies is the possibility to keep open the possibility of later adaptations.

In this way, the appearance of a video can be subsequently adapted (new corporate design). Even more, the image content can be uncut at a later time when archiving a “clean” image version. Or used in other videos. Therefore, those who work with lower thirds should agree clean feeds as a binding part of the scope of delivery with the film production company.

Filmpulse Editorial Office
About Filmpulse Editorial Office 180 Articles
Under the heading "Filmpulse Editorial Office", contributions appear which are jointly produced by several members of the staff.

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