In the television industry (especially in North America), lower thirds refers to graphics that take up the lower area of the screen, though not necessarily the entire lower third portion of the screen as the name suggests.
Lower thirds are most commonly found in television news production, though they also appear in documentaries and even have begun to make appearances in amateur videos thanks to home video editing.
In their simplest form, lower thirds can just be text overlying the video. Frequently this text is white with a drop shadow to make the words easier to read. Lower thirds can also contain graphical elements such as boxes, images or shading. Some lower thirds have animated backgrounds and text.
Lower thirds can be created using basic home video editing software or professional-level equipment. This equipment makes use of video's alpha channel to determine what parts of the graphic or text should be transparent, allowing the video in the background to show through. The Chyron Corporation and Aston Broadcast Systems Ltd are major manufacturers of such equipment.
Lower thirds are also often known as chyrons in North America, and astons in the United Kingdom, after the major suppliers of lower-third editing systems. Other common terms include superbars (US) and name straps (UK).
Video with lower thirds is known as a "program as broadcast" or as "dirty"; video without lower thirds is known as a "clean feed" or as "textless." For international distribution, programs often include "textless elements" on the master tape – these are all the shots to which lower thirds (and other graphics) have been applied, placed end-to-end so a clean master can be created if necessary.
Lower thirds are usually arranged in tiers, or lines:
- One-tier lower thirds: Usually used to identify a story that's being shown, or to show a presenter's name.
- Two-tier lower thirds: Used most often to identify a person on screen. Often the person's name will appear on the first line, with his or her place of residence or a description below it. Two-tier lower thirds may also be used as "locators" to identify where a story is taking place.
- Three-tier lower thirds: These lower thirds add more information. Commonly the first tier is used to tell when the video was shot, if it was not shot the day the newscast is airing.
- Fox News Channel's lower-third display misidentified Rep. Mark Foley, a Republican from Florida, as a Democrat, during the sex scandal involving Foley.
- MSNBC's lower-third display misspelled Niger Innis's first name, turning it into a racial slur.
- On June 11th, 2008, Fox News Channel apologized for displaying the chyron "Outraged liberals: Stop picking on Obama's baby mama" which inaccurately described Barack Obama's wife, Michelle, despite the fact that the two are married. In September the producer responsible, Jessica Herzberg, was fired by Fox.
In popular culture
- The US television shows Murphy Brown, Sports Night and NewsRadio all showed their credits in the form of lower thirds, alluding to the shows' themes.
- Sports Night, a US television series about the fictional show of the same name, makes common reference to chyrons, along with other typical TV jargon, such as VOs and C-breaks.