This will be a gathering at which our own unselfconscious enjoyment of the impending New Year will play a central role. (If your own enjoyment of the impending New Year requires extended observation of others engaged in ostentatious enjoyment of the impending New Year, you may want to attend a different gathering at an apartment with a TV.)
So yeah, what is with the idea that we have to be watching the Times Square revelers in order to fulfill our obligation of ringing in the new year? It seems even more ridiculous now that I live in New York, and Times Square is no longer a shrine that I see on TV once a year, but an ordinary (albeit flashy) place that I traverse (underground) twice a day.
So I think there is a cultic ritual going on. Just as the High Priest performed the service of Yom Kippur in order to atone for the sins of all Israel (watching in the courtyard and falling on their faces), so too do the New Year's Eve broadcasts serve a similar vicarious function in America. The High Priest was separated seven days before Yom Kippur, and stayed up all night, in order to ensure that he would be ritually pure for the sacred avodah. Likewise, the TV anchors hand the mike to breathless tourists who are so excited that they've been standing there since 10 AM. When the time ball falls, the High Priest dons his own clothes and throws a feast, wishing everyone an acrostically happy new year.